Before planting tomatoes you need to choose a site that has a well drained soil, is in the full sun, has good air drainage, and has access to water. Soil testing in advance of planting is a good idea to ensure the pH is in the recommend range and also allows you to know what elements will be needed at planting.
Planting Transplants or Seeds
Direct seeding is common for many crops, but it is common to plant tomato transplants in the garden. Transplants can be purchased from nurseries and garden centers or gardeners may choose to grow their own transplants. Several factors influence the growth rate of tomato transplants, but quality transplants could be produced in about five to six weeks. Therefore, tomato seeds should be planted about five or so weeks before transplanting into the garden.
The root ball of short transplants with larger stems, that can easily stand up without being broken by the wind, can be planted at ground level. If tall transplants with narrow stems are used, they should be trenched. Trenching a plant involves digging trench, laying the seedling in the trench, covering the roots and most of the stem with soil, and leave the top three or so inches of the plant sticking out of the ground.
Mulching for Added Benefits
Mulching is a good idea because it keeps the soil cool, keeps the soil from drying out, and helps prevent weeds. Since mulches keep the soil cool, it is recommended not to add mulch until the ground warms later in the spring. Some growers use black plastic mulch which helps the soil warm in the spring. Organic mulches such as pine bark, pine straw, wheat straw, etc. can be excellent mulches in the garden. Organic mulches will add nutrients to the soil as well as increasing the water and air holding capacity of the soil as they break down.
Care for Growth of a Tomato Plant
Tomatoes need to be supported in order to grow upright. It is common on a small scale to use tomato cages, and larger growers will use stakes and string. Remember to stake the cages so they will not fall over with the weight of the plant and fruit.
Plants will need to be irrigated for best production. The plants can be watered by hand, or if many plants are growing an irrigation drip line can be used. Overhead irrigation is not recommended as it wets the leaves and encourages disease.
Remember to scout and manage disease and insects, rotate the crop to another location in the garden from year to year, manage weeds, plant cover crops when possible, and manage the nutrients. A soil test really helps a grower to know what nutrients need to be added to the soil. Contact the local Extension office if you would like more information on tomato production.