Steps to Grow Tomatoes
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A hot topic every growing season, what can I do to insure healthy tomatoes? The following steps will assist you in growing healthier tomatoes. Proper tomato selection is key, heirloom varieties such as Cherokee Purple have been around for decades. These varieties have no disease resistant traits intentionally introduced into their genetic makeup and are more susceptible to disease and fungi. In comparison, resistant varieties have genetic traits engineered into their makeup to promote disease resistance.
For example, if (F1) follows the variety name such as Mountain Fresh F-1 then the tomato is resistant to Fusarium Wilts 1-2, similarly a variety name followed by (V) denotes resistance to Verticillium Wilts for a complete list of disease resistant designations view the NC State Extension website. Consistent watering practices are also crucial to tomato production, a tomato is composed of 95% water, too much or not enough affect fruit quality. Too much water causes cracks and deformations and so does a lack of water. Culture practices go hand-in-hand with watering and can reduce many diseases and fungal issues, plastic culture or other types of mulch keep the ground warm and weeds suppressed, a mulch (synthetic or natural) also keeps moisture around the roots. Drip irrigation is also another way to keep water close to the plant roots and off of plant foliage. Although many gardeners view staking as a way to increase plant numbers and make harvesting easier, there are disease prevention measures in use when one stakes or cages tomatoes. Airflow is the biggest benefit from staking, because the plant is lifted above the soil which creates passageways for air movement among the tomato plants thus keeping the foliage dry. The main goal with the previous techniques is to reduce water to foliage exposure, when water sits on tomato leaves it can trap fungal spores on the leaf surface which in turn lead to wilts or blights. A good way to prevent this is to strip the bottom leaves from the tomato plant which reduces the risk of soil borne spores splashing upon the plant when one waters.
Fertilization is also key in avoiding certain diseases, for example excessive Nitrogen levels are conducive to certain diseases and insects. In tomato production, it is better to fertilize with a fertilizer higher in Phosphorus such as a 5-20-5 to keep Nitrogen levels in check. Another must for tomatoes is incorporating Calcium Nitrate into the fertilizer program on a consistent basis to avoid Blossom End Rot. Tomato plants are notorious for tying up Calcium within the plant which keeps the Calcium away from the blossom which causes Blossom End Rot. A steady regiment of Calcium Nitrate at low rates reduces this risk. The last step is to implement a fungicide application program. This is vital to preventing Early and Late season blights. When a tomato shows blight symptoms it’s too late, the goal is to never let the blight gain a foothold on the tomato plant. For homeowners an application program which rotates between copper, Chlorothalonil, and Mancozeb should be effective. Application should take place immediately after planting with applications following every 10 to 14 days or sooner if wet conditions and cool nights are persistent.