What should gardeners be doing this week to help keep tomatoes going strong?
For Chris Stroupe, a Piedmont Master Gardener, two gardening chores this week will help keep his tomatoes healthy.
“Tomatoes are awesome, but they do take a little bit of work,” he said.
To start with, “I’ll be suckering them,” Stroupe said. Removing the small extra stems that sprout from tomato plants can help keep the plant’s energy focused more on nurturing delectable fruits and less on spreading out in different directions. What may seem like a simple task now can pay off later in heartier, tastier tomatoes at harvest time.
The second important task is “tying them up,” Stroupe said. Tying the tomato plants gently to stakes to help them stay upright as they grow can help gardeners avoid some of the classic problems that can come between gardeners and the chunky marinara they’ve been looking forward to all season long.
Keeping tomato plants upright can help protect them from fungus and insect attacks. Stroupe said staked tomato plants are easier to tend than ones spreading across the ground. Your back will thank you — far less stooping and bending are involved — and it’s easier to avoid the pitfalls of too much water, including unappetizing dark spots and determined pests.
“Keep the moisture inside your tomatoes, not outside,” Stroupe said.
“They’ll literally grow horizontally” if not staked, Stroupe said. “Bless their hearts, they get fungus-y, and it’s best to get them off the ground. It also makes life easier. You don’t have to get on ground level to get your tomatoes.”
Tomato fans thinking about planting some for next year should consider choosing a variety of early, late and what Stroupe calls “tomato” tomatoes — the meaty, large fruits one reaches for to slice for cookout burgers and mayo-loaded tomato sandwiches — to ensure a steady supply from late spring through fall. Stroupe is getting ready to pick some cherry tomatoes he added to his garden in May, and he anticipates having different varieties to enjoy through mid-October, or until frost returns.
If you’re a container gardener, Stroupe said to plan ahead to plant some next year, as tomatoes are a great choice for containers.
Although you may need to water them a bit more frequently than their garden-based peers, “you can move them from place to place on your porch,” he said. Being able to bring them indoors on a day that’s way too hot or on an evening when early frost is possible offers the flexibility you need to respond quickly to the plants’ needs.
Wondering which gardening tasks to prioritize? Email your questions to email@example.com, and we’ll ask local experts for answers.