For most of the northern part of the United States, Memorial Day marks the date when tomatoes can be safely planted to avoid frost. Many intrepid tomato growers may already have picked out their plants and set them out. But it’s not a bad idea to wait. If you buy plants early, keep them in a warm place and set them out in the sun a few hours per day. Don’t plant tomatoes until the air temperature is at least 50 degrees F during the day and night. Use the extra time to prepare the soil just right to ensure your tomatoes, like army recruits, will be “all that they can be.”
Choose a spot that gets at least eight hours of sun a day.
Set plants out in early evening to reduce the stress and heat injury.
Option 1: Dig a hole the size of a basketball (but don’t put a basketball in it). Instead, fill the hole with water the day before planting and let it soak in. Fill the hole halfway with compost and add a small amount of balanced fertilizer, i.e. 5-5-5.
Take off all but the top four or five leaves of the plant and bury it up to the lowest leaves. Then soak the soil, but try not to get water on the plant.
Option 2: Put down 5-5-5 fertilizer and till it in. Then dig a shallow trench. Remove all but the top leaves from the stem and lay the plant and root ball on its side in the trench. Bury it leaving just the top leaves showing. This way, the plant will absorb more nutrients, and the stem will absorb more heat, causing it to fruit earlier.
Stake or cage your plants early to avoid breaking off stems and leaves after the plants have grown.
Unless it has rained, water plants every 10 days, soaking soil to 6-10 inches deep.
When blossoms form, feed the plants with a high phosphorus (middle number) fertilizer such as 12-48-12 or 10-55-10.
If you want fewer, but larger tomatoes, prune your plants by pinching out the suckers, which are the leafy shoots that grow from the “V” between the leaves and the central trunk.
Visit your tomato plants frequently. They won’t get lonely, but they may need your help to rid them of tomato worms or other pests should they appear.
Make your own pest repellent:
Put 6 cloves of garlic, half an onion, 1 tablespoon of cayenne pepper, and 1 tablespoon of Tabasco sauce in a blender with 1-2 cups of water. Blend until smooth. Mix with 1 tablespoon dishwasher liquid and 1 quart water. Let sit for a day, then strain into a spray bottle to spritz on your tomato plants. This will keep insects away and may help thwart rabbits and raccoons.
Become a Saturday Evening Post member and enjoy unlimited access. Subscribe now