Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Growing Tomatoes Part 3

The sooner tomatoes are planted outside, the sooner they will begin to produce ripe fruit, and there are a few tricks that make it possible to plant tomatoes in the garden a bit earlier.The garden soil may be warmed up by covering it with clear or white plastic for a few days. The small tomato plants will be much happier with their roots in warm soil. Once the plants are in the garden, the foliage can be protected from a light frost by covering the plants with plastic gallon jugs that have their bottoms removed, or with plastic or fabric sheets placed over the plants. Suspend this over the plants using wire hoops so the plastic or fabric doesn't touch the foliage.

When you are ready to transplant your tomato seedlings into the garden, be sure to choose a spot for them that gets full sun for at least 8 hours a day. Dig a hole for each plant that is large enough to easily accommodate all of the roots. Before transplanting, water the plantswhile they are still in the pot. This not only helps prevent transplant shock, but it also makes it easier to slip the plant from the pot.Tomato plants will grow roots from any part of the stem that is buried beneath the soil, so the plants will benefit from being planted deeply, up to the first set of leaves. If the plants have spent too much time in pots and have become leggy, they may be planted in furrows with their too-long stems laid in the furrow and gently buried with soil. This will help the plants develop a strong root system while preventing the long stem from breaking.Fill in the planting hole with soil, pressing the soil in firmly to eliminate air pockets. Then give the plants a good drink of water, thoroughly soaking the soil around them.

If you plan on staking or trellising your tomato plants, they can be planted about 2-3 feet apart. Plants that will be allowed to sprawl on the ground will need more room and should be planted 4-6 feet apart. If the soil is still a bit cool, your white or clear plastic may be placed on the ground beneath the plants to warm the soil. Once warmer temperatures have settled in, this plastic should be removed to avoid burning the foliage with reflective heat.It is important to keep tomato leaves up off the soil to help prevent soil-borne diseases from attacking the plants. This can easily be done by applying straw mulch around the plants. But straw mulch should only be applied once the soil has warmed up above 70 degrees. If the mulch is laid down while the soil is still cool, it will keep the soil from warming up as it should, your tomato plants will suffer from cold feet and won't produce as well as they could.Planting your tomatoes the right way is an important step toward a bountiful harvest of sweet, juicy fruit.

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