Tomato Growing Tips for Pamlico County

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Most home vegetable gardeners enjoy a ripe red tomato. However, there are a number of individuals in Pamlico County who have trouble growing this simple crop. To maximize your chances for success, here is a list of tips that can help you grow healthy, delicious, red ripe tomatoes.

  1. Sunlight –Tomatoes need at least 6-hours of direct sunlight, with 8-10 hours being ideal. Plants in pots that have been placed in the sun will get warmer than those in the ground. You might need to move them around to find ideal light and temperature conditions.
  2. Good Soil – Whether you grow tomatoes in a pot or in the ground, fertile, well-drained soil is required. If you grow tomatoes in a pot, use a quality potting soil mix. Never mix soil from the yard into a pot or reuse potting soil that remains in the pot from last year. If you are growing tomatoes in the ground, start with a soil test. Soil testing is available through the N.C. Department of Agriculture & Consumer Services Soil Testing Division with testing materials available at the Extension office. Once your soil is tested, amend with lime or fertilizer recommended by the soil test. If your garden soil is too wet, consider a raised bed for better drainage. Amendments such as compost can be beneficial to areas with sandy or clay soils.
  3. Water – All plants need water and a good water supply will help insure your tomatoes are productive. Consistent moisture in your garden can also help reduce the occurrence of blossom-end rot, a common condition that creates a callus-like blemish on the blossom-end of tomatoes. Too little water or too much will greatly influence blossom-end rot. Mulching around plants can also help conserve moisture. Soaker hoses, drip irrigation, and hand watering are good methods to limit water contact with leaves and stems to reduce disease occurrence. If you are growing in pots or containers, the warmer air temperatures become, and the larger plants grow, the more often you will need to water (several times per day).
  4. Start with Quality, Disease Resistant Plants –There are numerous varieties available today with natural resistance to certain diseases and conditions. I recommend to plant at least one variety with resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus (TSWV). This is the most common disease issue we have with tomatoes every year. Resistance is the only practical solution. Choose transplants that are stocky, green in color, with healthy white roots and free from obvious pests. Transplants with flowers should be avoided.
  5. Control Pest – Pamlico County has ideal growing conditions for both tomatoes and pests. If you recognize an issue with your plants try to identify the cause (insect, fungal disease, bacterial disease, etc.). With proper identification of the pest, the best control options can be obtained. If you are unsure about the pest in question, ask a knowledgeable gardener for help, a Master Gardener℠ volunteer in your area, or contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County office for assistance. Hornworms (tobacco and tomato) will eventually show up on your plants. Just understand, where you see one, you’ve missed two more.
  6. Fertilize – Tomatoes need additional nitrogen during the growing season. Sidedress (applying additional nitrogen fertilizer to the soil around your plants) plants when they begin to set fruit and about 4-6 weeks thereafter in the growing season. One-half pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet should be sufficient. Apply one pound of nitrogen per 1000 square feet at planting and work this into the soil (on a 3 foot row that’s about 333 linear feet). Transplants will also benefit from a starter fertilizer application of water-soluble fertilizer at planting time. Follow the directions on the product label for the recommended rate.
  7. Stake or Cage – Tomatoes should be supported soon after transplanting by either a stake or a cage to keep fruit and foliage off the ground. Those who stake tomatoes may practice pruning (elimination of suckers) to limit growth, but remember to stop pruning once you have one sucker immediately below the first flower cluster. Tomatoes grown in cages are typically not pruned. Either method is acceptable, but plants grown in cages typically produce more fruit with smaller size. Staked plants that have been pruned produce larger tomatoes with less quantity. Indeterminate tomatoes like “Beef Steak” may benefit from a cage, as they continue to grow and set fruit until cold weather stops growth. Determinate varieties like “Celebrity,” will stop upward growth after flowering. Once they set a crop their growing season is over. Harvest all these tomatoes and plant another crop if time permits.
  8. Have Fun & Be Cost Effective – What is the point of growing a tomato if you don’t enjoy the activity, you dislike tomatoes, or it creates a financial burden for yourself. You will be far more successful in your gardening activities if this is something you actually want to do. There are many other vegetables that are both delicious and enjoyable to grow. Watermelons are always a southern favorite and Pamlico County is an ideal location.

For more information on vegetable gardening in Pamlico County, NC, contact the N.C. Cooperative Extension of Pamlico County office at 252-744-4121. Additional resources are available at the NC State Extension Gardening website.