by Cathy Bylinowski, Horticulture Instructor, University of Missouri Extension
May has been cool so far. We should not have any temperatures lower than 50 at night according to the latest weather forecast for our region.
So that means it is time to plant tomatoes, our favorite warm season crop! Tomatoes are a versatile and nutritious vegetable and an important ingredient in so many of the dishes we like to prepare. Tomatoes are originally from South America. They were first domesticated and cultivated as a crop in Mexico and Central America so they prefer warm climates. They grow well in our hot summers and produce until late fall.
While not trouble-free, following some basic tomato tips will help you have a good chance at success:
Plant in full sun. Tomatoes need 8-10 hours of sun to produce a good harvest.
Choose well-drained soil.
Mulch around the plants by mid-June. Mulching with compost, dry grass clippings, or straw keeps the soil moist and soil temperatures moderated during summer heat.
Mulch keeps the soil from splashing onto the plant leaves, which helps prevent fungal diseases.
Apply a maintenance fertilizer when soil is prepared and before planting tomato transplants. Work it into the soil to the depth of about 6 inches. A fertilizer with less nitrogen is best for tomatoes.
Plant tomato transplants deeper than they were growing in the pots or plastic trays.
Plant tomatoes at least 2 to 3 feet apart. Good air circulation between plants helps prevent diseases.
If we do not get at least 1 inch of rain per week, supplemental irrigation is needed. Water tomatoes deeply, about once a week, around the root zone of the plant. Less frequent and deep watering is better than shallow frequent watering.
Indeterminate tomatoes will keep growing and producing tomatoes until they are killed by a fall freeze.
Determinate tomatoes grow about 3-5 feet tall and stop growing after producing a crop.
Studies show that tomatoes grown on stakes, in cages, or on trellises produce more high-quality tomatoes than tomatoes left to trail on the ground.
Give one or two side dressings of fertilizer at one-month intervals after you notice green tomatoes, about 1/3 of mature size, on the plants.
Watch for tomato hornworms and other insect pests that can damage the plants and fruit. Gardeners have a wide range of methods for insect pest control, from hand picking of pests, strong sprays of water, organic pesticides, to synthetic pesticides. Be sure to read and follow label directions for any pesticides you use.
Here is a link to a MU Extension guide sheet on growing tomatoes which will give you more information for tomato crop success-https://extension2.missouri.edu/catalog/product/view/id/4591/
Mid-May to early June is also a great time to plant other warm season crops such as sweet peppers, hot peppers, eggplant, and sweet potatoes. Contact Cathy Bylinowski, Horticulture Instructor, University of Missouri Extension, 816-482-5850 or 816-252-5051, firstname.lastname@example.org if you have more questions about tomatoes or other vegetable crops. Join MU Extension Field Horticulture Specialists for free Home Horticulture Town Halls on Wednesdays, 11:00am to 12noon, via Zoom- https://extension2.missouri.edu/events/home-horticulture-town-hall. Hear the latest information on a wide range of gardening topics and get answers to many gardening questions. Have a good time gardening!
Image courtesy University of MO Extension