Almost any gardener would agree that harvesting your first garden ripened tomato is always a big highlight of the growing season! Lucky for us, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow in Utah, but there are a few tricks that can make a big difference in their productivity.
Here are ten tips for growing great tasting tomatoes along the Wasatch Front.
- Don’t stress ‘em out! Tomatoes are warm-season plants meaning they do not tolerate freezing temperatures. Growing a great tomato plant is a little like picking the winning horse at the derby – it should start out strong from the gate and run a great all around race. If your plants experience some stress early in the growing season, like a late freeze, pull them and start over. You need a great start to claim your prize at the finish line!
- Start small. Our USU Extension vegetable production specialist, Dr. Dan Drost, recommends that transplants have 5-7 mature leaves and a well-developed root system. Avoid the temptation of purchasing a larger plant – especially one that has fruit growing on it! It is better to start small and wait for your reward later in the growing season.
- Provide consistent, routine irrigation. If I had to make a guess, I would say that most tomato problems are rooted in irrigation difficulties. Tomato plants like consistent and even moisture throughout the growing season. Completely saturate the root system and then allow the top few inches of soil to dry out before providing the next irrigation event. The more regular the irrigation schedule, the happier the tomato plants!
- Put in for an order of sunshine. Tomato plants need sun, and lots of it! To be successful, your plants will need at least 6 to 8 hours (or more) of direct sun daily.
- Be cautious with soil amendments. Tomato plants prefer organic rich, well-draining soil but sometimes organic amendments (like non-fully composted animal manures) and certain types of fertilizers can be high in soluble salts that cause stress to plants. A routine soil test will help you identify if high salinity is a problem in your garden. More information about soil testing is available at usual.usu.edu.
- The goldilocks decision with fertilizer – not too much, not too little, just right! Too much nitrogen and your plants will not produce fruit. Too little and your plants will not be as productive as you would have liked. Lean on the advice of experts and fertilize plants as needed to provide the ‘just right’ amount of fertilizer. Here is a link to the USU Extension factsheet on growing tomatoes.
- Be choosy! Sometimes the key to great tomatoes in the garden is selecting the best varieties to grow. Many varieties of tomatoes grow well along the Wasatch Front, but here is a factsheet that gives a few recommended varieties. Also, ask experienced gardeners which types they like to grow best. If you have a favorite variety, please share it with us in the comments section below!
- Leave the ‘splits’ to the bananas. As tomato fruit begins to color (ripen), water can cause the thinning skin to split. Consider harvesting ripe fruit before watering to keep the skin intact.
- Wrinkles are beautiful! If anyone ever told you that your wrinkled/furrowed/distorted looking tomatoes are ugly, just tell them they taste delicious. Some gardeners will testify that the uglier the fruit, the yummier the tomato! Judge this theory for yourself.
- Keep em’ moving. Tomatoes (and other solanceous family members – peppers, tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes and so forth) should be rotated away from the same garden spot. Try to not return these family members to the same garden area for at least 3 years (grow something else, like onions or peas, or radish, or corn). This practice, called crop rotation, will help you reduce the chance of developing devastating soil borne diseases – like verticillium wilt.