I don’t know why it is, but tomatoes just taste better if you grow them yourself. Homegrown tomatoes aren’t just delicious, they are so fresh that you are getting the maximum amount of vitamins and nutrients. When you grow your own tomatoes, you are saving money and reducing your carbon footprint by contributing to a more sustainable food system.
Growing your own tomatoes can be a fun and rewarding experience and can give you a sense of pride and accomplishment as you watch your plants grow and produce tomatoes. Naturally, the more abundant your tomato harvest, the more you can brag about your plentiful harvest to your friends and neighbors.
But how can you get your tomatoes to produce more produce? It’s not magic. Here are 11 tips for getting more tomatoes per plant.
1. Choose The Right Variety Of Tomato Plants
There are more than 10,000 different varieties of tomato plants and some of them are more prolific than others. With so many to choose from, it can be challenging to know what kind of tomato plants to purchase at your local garden center.
Do your homework and talk to the garden experts at the nursery to help you pick the best tomato variety for your growing conditions and your needs.
Consider what you are looking for in a tomato. Do you plan to can your own tomato sauce or salsa? Or do you want large, juicy tomatoes to slice for your hamburgers? Maybe you want cherry tomatoes for snaking or to add to your salads.
Some tomato varieties are better suited for different uses. Likewise, there are tomato varieties that produce more fruit than others.
Plus, plant breeders are continuously working to improve tomato plants and to create new hybrid varieties with exceptionally high yields.
2. Start With Healthy Tomato Plants
When you are at your local nursery or garden center, carefully inspect the plants to make sure they are healthy and free of disease. Start with the leaves of the plants. Look for plants with lush, green leaves that are free of spots, discoloration, or damage.
Look for signs of disease on the plant’s stems and roots. Plants with sturdy, strong stems that are not thin, weak, drooping, or wilted are healthy. Disease-free roots are white, rather than black or brown, and they aren’t overly wet.
If the plants are infested with pests, you will see tiny webs on the stems or beneath the leaves. There may also be holes in the leaves. Avoid plants that show signs of disease or pests because healthy tomato plants will give you a higher output of fruit.
3. Give Tomatoes Plenty Of Sunshine
Tomato plants generally prefer full sun for optimal growth and fruit production. They require a minimum of six to eight hours of direct sunlight per day to thrive. When tomato plants are grown in partial shade, they tend to produce fewer and smaller tomatoes, and the plant growth may become leggy and weak.
However, in extremely hot climates, some gardeners may choose to move their tomato plants into partial shade during the hottest part of the day to prevent sun scorch or leaf burn. In this case, it is important to ensure that the plants still receive enough direct sunlight to support healthy growth and fruit production.
4. Grow Your Tomato Plants In Good Soil
To maximize your tomato output, grow your tomato plants in well-drained soil that is rich in organic matter and nutrients. Tomatoes don’t like to sit in wet soil, as it can lead to root rot and other fungal diseases.
Make sure the soil drains well, either naturally or through the use of raised beds or containers.
The preferred soil type for tomato plants is loamy, with a pH level of between 6.0 and 6.8. Compost, aged manure, and other organic materials can help to improve soil fertility and provide the right soil balance your plants need to produce fruit.
Tomatoes require a range of nutrients to grow, including nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium, along with micronutrients like calcium and phosphorus. If your soil is lacking, soil amendments can help to ensure that your tomato plants have access to important nutrients.
5. Keep Your Tomato Plants Well-Watered
Tomato plants need consistent moisture throughout the growing season to support healthy growth and fruit production. However, the exact amount of water they need will depend on several factors, including the climate, soil type, and stage of growth.
A good rule of thumb is to water deeply, yet infrequently. When you give your plants a deep soaking, you are encouraging the roots to grow deeper into the soil. This can help them to better withstand drought conditions.
Avoid overwatering your tomato plants. This can lead to waterlogging and root rot. In general, aim to water your tomato plants one or two times a week, depending on the weather conditions.
In some situations, watering tomato plants from above can increase the risk of fungal diseases. Instead of spraying your plants with a hose, use a watering can to apply the water directly to the soil at the base of the plants, leaving the leaves dry.
Alternatively, you can use a drip irrigation system to keep the soil well watered.
6. Feed Your Tomato Plants
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. They pull a lot of nutrients out of the soil to help them grow and thrive. Proper fertilization is important if you want your tomato plants to reward you with a bumper crop of tomatoes.
General-purpose plant fertilizers are effective, but shop around your local garden center and you will find fertilizers that are specially formulated for tomatoes. These fertilizers contain the specific nutrients that tomato plants need.
Be sure to follow the directions on the label so that you are fertilizing your tomato plants at the right time. The plants should be fertilized when they are first plants and then again when they start to set their fruit.
From that point on, you will only need to apply fertilizer once every four to six weeks for the remainder of the growing season.
When you apply the fertilizer, sprinkle the product evenly around the base of the plant, and then water it in thoroughly so the fertilizer absorbs into the soil. Don’t get fertilizer on the plant’s leaves. This can burn and damage the leaves.
7. Prune Your Tomato Plants
Pruning tomato plants can help improve air circulation, reduce disease pressure, and increase the size and quality of the tomatoes. But it is important to know when and how to prune your plants.
Don’t prune your tomatoes until after the plants have developed several sets of true leaves – at least four to six sets – before you prune them. This gives the plants time to establish strong root systems and develop enough foliage to support fruit production.
Tomato plants will develop ‘suckers’ at the junction between the stem and a branch where new growth emerges. Because suckers are trying to grow into new branches, they compete with the fruit-bearing parts of the plant for nutrients.
The more leaves and branches, the fewer nutrients are available to boost tomato production.
Pinch off the suckers that emerge from the main stem. You can either do this with your fingers or with a pair of clean pruning shears. When pruning, also look for damaged leaves or branches and remove them.
8. Encourage Pollination
Tomato plants are self-pollinators, but you can take a few steps to encourage pollination to boost the production of tomatoes.
The first is to gently shake your tomato plants to loosen up the pollen. This will aid in the self-pollination process.
Second, encourage natural pollinators, such as bees, to come into your garden area. You can lure them in by planting flowers and other plants that are highly attractive to bees, butterflies, and other insects near your tomato plants.
Lastly, avoid using harsh, chemical pesticides on your tomato plants. These will kill the good pollinators in addition to the destructive ones. If you need to get rid of destructive insects, look for natural methods that will target just the offending insects.
9. Support Your Tomato Plants
Providing support for tomato plants can help keep them upright and increase fruit protection.
There are many different types of supports you can use, including tomato cages, stakes, trellises, and even strings. Choose the type of support that best fits your garden, the size of your plants, and your situation.
It is best to install your tomato plant supports as soon as you plant your seedlings or transplant your plants. This allows the plants to grow into the support structure, rather than having to be tied up later.
It also lets you train your tomato plants to use the support structure.
If you are using a tomato cage, you may need to loosely tie the plant to the structure with twine or garden tape.
If you are using a single stake or pole to support your plant, you may need to prune the tomato plant to a single stem. This involves removing all but the main stem and any flower clusters, then tying the stem to the support as it grows.
As your tomato plants grow, check the support structure regularly. It may be necessary to adjust the support or re-tie the plant when it grows.
When tomato plants are properly supported, it literally takes a weight off the plant so the tomato plant can produce a bountiful harvest.
10. Monitor Your Plants For Pests Or Diseases
Inspect your tomato plants on a regular basis for visible signs of disease or pests.
Look for such things as holes in leaves from insects, spots on leaves, and wilting or yellowing. If your tomato plants show signs of disease or pests, it is important to take action quickly to prevent the problem from getting worse.
If you notice any infected or infested plant material, like leaves or fruit, remove them immediately and dispose of them in your trash can. Do not compost them. Proper disposal can help prevent the problem from spreading to other plants in your garden.
When dealing with pests, consider using organic pest control methods, such as insecticidal soap or neem oil. These can be applied directly to the affected areas of the plant to control and eliminate the pests.
For fungal diseases, including blight and powdery mildew, apply a fungicide to help you get control of the problem. Be sure to read the label carefully and follow the manufacturer’s instructions. Wear protective gear, like gloves and a mask, when working with fungicides.
Take steps to prevent pests and diseases by improving the growing conditions. If your tomato plants are growing in a vegetable garden, for example, rotate your tomatoes to a different portion of the garden next year. This can break the cycle of soil-borne diseases.
Some diseases are related to overwatering so be sure that your tomato plants aren’t so wet that they are susceptible to fungal growth. Overall, prevention and early detection are key to keeping your tomato plants healthy and productive.
11. Harvest Tomatoes Regularly
Knowing when and how to harvest tomatoes is important to ensure that they are ripe and flavorful. Proper and frequent harvesting also helps the tomato plant continue to produce fruit. Regular and careful harvesting also makes sure the plant is not damaged.
Tomatoes should be harvested when they are fully ripe, yet still firm. The tomatoes should have a uniform color and have a slight give when they are squeezed slightly.
In general, tomatoes will be ready to be picked about 60 to 80 days after planting, depending on the variety and the growing conditions.
Harvest your tomatoes in the morning when the fruit is cool and has the most moisture. This can prevent the tomatoes from becoming sun damaged. Firmly grasp the tomato and twist it until it comes off the vine rather than pulling it, which can harm the plant.
Try to harvest your tomatoes every day or every other day during the season. When you pick your tomatoes, you are signaling to the plant to produce more fruit. You can encourage your plants to grow more tomatoes by picking the fruits regularly.
By carefully following these 11 tips, you can get more tomatoes from each of your plants. When you understand the basic needs of tomato plants and the best way to address these needs, you can maximize the fruit output per plant and enjoy a bountiful harvest.