What can go wrong with growing tomatoes? Almost everything! What can go right with planting tomatoes in our home gardens? Enough to keep us growing them!
What’s the problem?
Let’s face it—there are lots of challenges with homegrown tomatoes. They wilt, they spot, they crack, they dot, they blotch, they rot. Whew! The list goes on. Few vegetables—or fruits, which are what tomatoes are—are more challenging.
Try following these guidelines:
- Decide on varieties that are well-suited to our area, bred for disease resistance, and meet your eating preferences.
- Select healthy bedding plants or start indoors from seeds 6 to 8 weeks before the expected last frost date.
- Wait to plant until after all danger of frost has passed, usually after Mother’s Day for Buncombe County.
- Choose a location that receives at least six hours of sun a day.
- Plant in well-prepared soil, rich in humus, with a pH level of about 6.0 to 7.0 (find out with a soil test).
- Maintain uniform moisture and mulch.
- Avoid overhead watering which can promote disease.
- Stake or cage your plants because of their vining tendencies.
What to watch for
Although there are myriad tomato problems, most are rare. Five of the most common concerns and their solutions:
- Bacterial spot produces small chocolate brown spots on leaves and fruit. Recommended controls are to use treated seed, apply fixed copper bactericide, avoid overhead watering, remove old plant debris, and rotate your planting area.
- Blossom end rot caused by calcium deficiency produces dark-brown leathery spots on the blossom end of fruit. Prevent by liming your soil (based on soil test results) and keeping your plants evenly moist—be sure to water plants during dry periods!
- Sunscald produces papery white areas on the side of fruit facing the sun or yellow-orange blotches at the stem end that do not ripen. Proper planting and maintenance help prevent foliage diseases that can cause leaf drop and expose fruits to too much sun.
- Cracks in fruit also result from an uneven moisture supply. Tomatoes may need to be watered every 2-3 days, especially in dry weather.
- Flea beetles produce many tiny holes in leaves. Tomatoes will tolerate a great deal of flea beetle damage, but if damage is excessive, ask about an approved pesticide.
To prevent disease in future years, do not compost plant debris. Plant tomatoes in a different location at least every third year. Then, watch your tomatoes grow! If you have a bad year, don’t give up! There’s always hope for the following season.
Consider the wisdom in John Denver’s song from his 1988 album Higher Ground:
Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes
What would life be without homegrown tomatoes?
Only two things that money can’t buy
That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes!
Article written by Mary Alice Ramsey, Extension Master GardenerSM Volunteer.
Gardening in the Mountains lecture:
All Things Tomato
by Dr. Randy Gardner, Professor Emeritus, Horticultural Science, NCSU
July 19, 2018, 10 a.m. to noon
Folk Arts Center, Asheville, NC
Watch for details in early July blog announcement.
Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden
by NC State Extension
Late Tomato Blight Is Here
by Debbie Green, Extension Master Gardener Volunteer, July 2015