Use these five tips NOW for healthy tomato plants. Combat disease, prevent pests and catch problems before they take hold.
Stop adding nitrogen fertilizers. Excess nitrogen encourages leaf growth at the expense of fruit. If you’re wondering why you’re not getting blossoms or developing tomatoes, put down the liquid fertilizer and instead drench the soil with a gallon of water spiked with a tablespoon each of kelp (granular or liquid) and Epsom salt. The soil you’re using is also critical. My condolences now if you used nitrogen-enriched, time-released, chemical-laden potting soil. Clemson University Cooperative Extension warns against high levels of nitrogen because it can hinder calcium uptake and possibly be a contributor to blossom end rot.
Prune and don’t look back. Why do we cringe at the thought of trimming tomato plants? Is it we’re scared to lower our tomato count? Leaves with extreme curl, black blotches, dark rings, dry spots, or other signs of malady need to be removed. Plants undergo stress when supporting sickly growth and this leaves them even more susceptible to disease. Trim back to the branch or if it is a whole branch, trim back to just above a node. Keep the main stems and branches of the vine intact. Branches touching the ground? Get rid of them. These branches are not going to produce tons of fruit. What they might do is contract disease or fungus from the soil. Even if they produced a tomato or two, it’s better to trim them off before they spread early blight, a fungus that uses moisture as fuel. Allow more light and air to circulate around the plant to keep it healthy and prevent pests from hiding under so much leaf cover.
Water the soil, not the plant.Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses. Do not spray the plant with water. This encourages disease. Once the plant is established, try achieving a watering schedule that allows you to go a couple of days without watering. It’s better to water deep every 2-3 days than to water the surface every day. Tomatoes in containers should be watered until it’s draining out freely and then wait until the plant needs it again. Over-watering is a common misstep.
Examine the plant for pests.Look out for tomato or tobacco hornworm waste, eggs and the caterpillars. Armyworms are also a threat. They don’t just attack corn. Pick off any caterpillars immediately and set out for the birds to eat. Look for hornworms after dark with a blacklight!
Shade tomatoes in extreme heat.Crazy hot climate? Pollinators will still find your plants if you drape shade cloth above the tomatoes at an angle to bring some relief at the hottest part of the day.