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Tomato Basics: Growing

Which tomatoes are right for your garden?

Tomato Basics: Growing

Tomatoes, the vegetable grown by most home gardeners, has well over 10,000 varieties.  It can be a challenge to know which tomato is right for you.  And once you decide which variety to grow the next question is,  how to successfully grow a tomato plant so that it produces bushels of edible fruit.


Basically tomatoes are categorized by fruit characteristics and growth habit. The three main characteristics are slicer or globe tomato, cherry, and paste. Growth habits are determinate, indeterminate and some experts add a third category, semi-deteminate. Determinate are smaller plants, fruits ripen in a short period of time and are suited for containers. While the indeterminate plants can grow quite large, require staking and fruit ripens until frost. Semi-determinate plants, as the name implies, have growth habits between determinate and indeterminate. 


Next you have a choice, whether to plant  a hybrid or open pollinated variety. Note: Heirlooms are open pollinated but not all open pollinated are heirlooms.  If you want to save seed plant an open pollinated variety.  If you want a disease resistant variety or one with specific traits grow a hybrid.   


Tomatoes are one of the easier vegetables to grow in the garden when basic requirements are met. For a bountiful harvest follow these simple guidelines:


Temperature – Best soil temperature to transplant tomatoes is between 60° to 70° . In the Willamette valley the soil is  usually warm enough by mid May to plant tomato plants  directly into the garden without protection.  

Sun – At least 6 hours per day

Soil – Well drained amended with organic material or garden fertilizer-Apply calcium of some sort when transplanting especially roma or paste types.

Spacing – Allow room for air circulation between plants

Watering – Use drip or soaker hose. Water long to encourage deep root growth.

Caging – Keeps foliage off the soil for disease control and ease of picking but tomatoes can be successfully grown without cages.


Even though you follow these guidelines, problems may still pop up. Here are some of the more common problems gardeners experience when growing tomatoes. 


Blossom End Rot – The most common issue is blossom end rot, when the end of the tomato is soft and eventually rots. 

Cause: Irregular watering or drought, Calcium deficiency, High Nitrogen fertilization, Root pruning during cultivation, incorrect pH                                                                                     

Solution: Water at regular intervals. Apply Bone Meal at planting time. Add Lime to soil in Fall. Adjust pH to between 6.5 and 7.5.


Sun Scald – A  yellow or white–spotted area on the flesh of the fruit directly exposed to the sun.

Cause:  Fruit exposed to direct sunlight,  hot and dry conditions and excessive pruning. 

Solution: Prune cautiously if at all - Provide shade covering during excessive heat


Blossom Drop – Blossoms fall off plant.

Cause:  Excessively hot, dry weather, Too much nitrogen, Dry winds, Heavy rain   

Solution:  As temperatures decrease blossoms stop dropping


Foliage only, no tomatoes

Cause: Too much nitrogen - Alkaline soil 

Solution:  Reduce nitrogen fertilizer, Bring soil pH to between 6.5 and 7.5


Cracking around stem end

Cause:  Dry weather followed by excessive watering causes fruits to expand quicker than the tomato skin can grow  

Solution:  Water regularly and deeply - Mulch - Plant resistant varieties


Watering Issues (Both Over and Under Watering) – Wilt, weakened stems, leaves curl up and discoloration occurs

Solution: Even, regular watering. Water for a longer period of time while reducing the frequency

Early blight - small dark spots form on older foliage near the ground. Leaf spots are round, brown and can grow up to 1/2 inch in diameter. Lesions on stems are oval to irregular dry brown areas with dark concentric rings  

Cause: Alternaria tomatophi and/or Alternaria solani. Fungal disease caused by water splashing up from the soil onto the foliage. 82°-86° is optimum temperature for spread along with wet weather.

Solution:  Water from the bottom to keep water from splashing on plants - Remove affected foliage - Mulch around plants - Improve air circulation - Remove all garden debris after harvest - Sanitize tools to keep fungus from spreading to other crops -Crop Rotation


Late Blight - Brown angular lesions appear on oldest foliage –firm, dark brown circular spots on fruit

Cause:  Pathogen Phytophthora infestans Stress or aging plants—favors cool, damp conditions –usually appears later in season

Solution:  Water regularly - No overhead watering  - Remove debris directly after harvest and do not compost this debris—sanitation--crop rotation

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