Growing Basics
Start with healthy plants. Whether homegrown or store-bought, plants should be short and stocky (6 to 10 in. tall). Avoid plants with blossoms or fruit. You'll pay more for plants in individual 4-in. pots, but they usually have larger root systems than those growing in cell packs. As a result, they will grow faster after transplanting. •Choose the right site. Tomatoes grow best in full sun (at least 8 hours daily) and well-drained soil rich in organic matter. Work a couple inches of compost or decomposed manure into the upper 6 in. of soil prior to planting. If a soil test shows the pH is below 6.0, apply lime. •Plant right. Set plants in the garden after the danger of frost and when the soil temperatures are above 60°F. (Experienced gardeners sometimes plant earlier and shelter plants to protect them from cold and frost.) Space plants 1 1/2 to 3 ft. apart (closer for determinate varieties, which spread less). Wide spacing assures good air circulation, which discourages diseases. Plant seedlings in the ground deeper than they were growing in their pots so the lowest leaves are just above the soil level. Roots will grow along the length of the buried stem, resulting in stronger plants. And, don't forget to water freshly planted seedlings. Most experts recommend fertilizing at planting time. But go easy on the fertilizer. In this case, less is best because too much nitrogen fertilizer results in vigorous vines with few tomatoes. The recommendation from Clemson University Extension is fairly standard: Pour about 1 pint of starter solution (2 tbs. of 10-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer per gallon of water) around each plant.
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