by Karen Weiland, Advanced Master Gardener
Cracking fruit, yellowing foliage and wilting leaves. Sound familiar? These are just a few common challenges to growing tomatoes, but oh the taste of those homegrown beauties right off the vine is so worth going head to head with the challenges. Consider these tips when growing tomatoes.
Choose the right location. Tomatoes need at least six hours of direct sunlight a day and plenty of good air circulation. Do not plant them too closely together.
Rotate your crops. Don’t grow tomatoes or related plants like peppers and eggplant in the same location year after year. It is recommended that plants in the tomato family not be planted in the same location more than once every three years. Many disease spores can live in the soil for years.
Improve the soil. Tomatoes like well-drained soil that is enriched with organic matter like well-rotted compost.
Water correctly. Water early in the day so plants dry before evening and give them a deep slow watering which will encourage good root formation. Try to avoid getting the foliage wet as this can lead to fungal diseases. Mulch to keep moisture levels consistent which will help prevent problems with blossom-end rot and leaf curl.
Encourage beneficial insects. Lady beetles, predatory wasps and toads are natural predators that reduce tomato pests. If possible, avoid the use of pesticides in the garden which kills the good bugs along with the bad bugs.
Don’t smoke when working with tomato plants to avoid spreading the tobacco mosaic virus. Tobacco products can carry the virus and you can spread the virus to plants if you don’t wash your hands after using those products. One remedy is to spray an infected plant with milk, it inactivates the virus.
Keep your garden clean. Remove and destroy infected plants to prevent disease from spreading to healthy plants. Remove garden debris, leaf litter and weeds to keep pests and pathogens away. Sterilize garden tools in a solution made from one part bleach to nine parts water.
Plant healthy stock. Hundreds of tomato varieties are available, so choose the type that will grow best in your area. Look for healthy green leaves and stems when purchasing a plant. Carefully check for pests or diseased plant parts so you don’t introduce these problems into your garden.
Tomato varieties marked with these codes have resistance to these diseases: F – fusarium wilt, FF – fusarium race1 and race 2, L – septoria leaf spot, A – alternaria leaf spot, T – tobacco mosaic virus, V – verticillium wilt and N – nematodes.
As always, Happy Gardening!
More information about gardening and related subjects is available online at www.hort.purdue.edu/ext/garden_pubs The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange Co., 636-2111 in Noble Co., 925-2562 in DeKalb Co. and 668-1000 in Steuben Co.
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