8 Tips for Growing Tomatoes in WNC

Some of these tips are from learning things the hard way and some are from my chats with old-timers that knew better.  Take what you like, with a four-finger pinch of salt.

  1. Fertilize the heck out of them.  Tomatoes are hungry plants and often under fertilized.  I use Ozmocote in a pink bottle, but it’s expensive.  10-10-10 or similar generic brand works, just apply according to the directions on the bag.  Just don’t forget to re-apply if you go that route.
  2. Stake with big, heavy-duty tomato cages.  Don’t chince out with these, you’ll thank me later.
  3. Mulch around them after planting.  I’ve tried shredded leaves, compost, straw, you name it, but the best is the old standby:  Triple ground hardwood bark mulch.  Slather on the mulch and it will save you a lot of watering.
  4. Spray with a fungicide every couple of weeks.  I have had the best results with Mancozeb, but Immunox is the easiest to use.
  5. The type of tomato matters.  Most experienced gardeners get sick of fighting the blight and go with hybrids.  I fall into that camp but can’t help but grow at least one or two heirlooms.  La Roma 2, Earligirl, and Betterboy are the most popular hybrids. For heirlooms try Cherokee Purple or Mr. Stripey.  See number 4 if you want to grow heirlooms.
  6. Pests- slugs and deer are the most irritating pest problems.  Slugs are an issue when the plants are young and deer just when they are ripe on the vine.  Put some slug bait down when you plant them and install a high fence around your garden.  For other bugs, just monitor and spray when necessary, in the early morning or evening so you don’t get the bees.
  7. Till the clay or truck in a thick layer of topsoil to grow in.  Tomatoes have huge roots and need lots of room, both above and below ground.
  8. Don’t be afraid to prune the indeterminates.  The less of the plant that is touching the ground the better, and pruning the top will keep it reasonably near the cages so you can keep it tied down.

If I were to pick 4 to grow this year it would be Roma, Betterboy, Cherokee Purple, and Sunsugar (or Sungold).  5th would be Brandywine just because.  Or Early Girl.  Don’t hold me to it.