Since they can’t open their gardens to the public this year, the Advertiser has invited local horticultural societies to write about what’s going on in their gardens. For questions or to submit articles, email firstname.lastname@example.org
HILLSBURGH – Two weeks ago we learned about how and why to grow heirloom tomatoes in the garden. This week, we learn tips on planting, caring for them, and hopefully, reaping a terrific yield.
Choose the site
Tomato plants need a minimum of eight hours of direct sunlight a day. More is better, so find the sunniest spot in your yard. Avoid planting in the same spot year after year. Pathogens can build up in the soil, moving your tomato patch from year to year will help avoid plant disease.
When to plant
Wait until after last frost, or cover on cold nights. The soil temperature should be at least 14C before you plant. If your plants come straight from the greenhouse, expose them to outdoor weather conditions a few hours a day while waiting for the ground to warm.
Unlike most plants, tomatoes should be planted deeper when they are transplanted. Neatly remove the lower leaves, and place the plant so that only the top few inches of leaves are above ground. The little hairs on the stems will turn into an extensive root system which will enable the plant to absorb more water and nutrients than the original small root ball, which you should loosen before you plant.
Use garden soil enriched with your own compost. Add some slow release fertilizer when you plant, and possibly some 10-52-10 transplant fertilizer if you have it. Absolutely avoid using any fertilizer with a high first number; high nitrogen fertilizers will give you a lot of leaves, but no fruit.
Tomatoes should be mulched. Black landscape cloth is ideal, and can be rolled up in autumn for re-use. Mulch keeps moisture from evaporating in hot weather, and prevents soil borne pathogens from splashing on plant leaves in rainy weather.
In extended dry periods, water deeply. Frequent light watering promotes shallow root growth, making the plant less able to withstand dry spells. Soaker hoses for drip irrigation use less water and keep the foliage dry. Wet foliage can lead to plant loss.
– Submitted by Stephanie Burke, who is a long-time member of the Hillsburgh Garden Club.