Once you receive your tomato plants, the most important factor to consider before planting them is the outdoor temperature. Far more tomato plants are killed by being put into soil that's too cold than from any pest or disease. Both the soil and the air temperatures need to stay above 55 degrees Fahrenheit, even at night, before your plants are ready to go into your garden. If in doubt, just keep them inside a bit longer.
Choose an overcast day or late afternoon to transplant your tomatoes to keep them from getting stressed by too much direct sunlight on their first day in the ground. Find a nice sunny spot and dig a hole about 18 inches wide and deep for each plant. If your plants have stretched, you'll want to dig it even wider. Work some of our Espoma Tomato-tone® fertilizer into the hole, then mix one shovelful of compost or humus into the soil you'll be adding back.
Set each plant into a hole so that it will be buried right up to the bottom leaf pair. You should be burying some green stem. This might seem odd, but don't worry; tomato plants can root all along their stems, so the buried stem will soon be healthy roots!
Press the soil down firmly around your freshly planted tomatoes, and water thoroughly. If you're growing an Indeterminate or ISI (vining) plant, go ahead and put your Tomato Pen or Tower in place now.
Tomato fruits are full of water, so of course these are thirsty, thirsty plants. Your tomato plants need about an inch and a half of water each week, which is around 50% more than most plants need! Test the moisture around your plants several times during the first few weeks after transplanting by sinking your index finger into the soil right beside your plant all the way to the knuckle. If your finger is at all dry, you need to water the plant more.
Mulch your plants well right away, too. Your mulch can be something as simple as pine needles or even old newspaper. If you're using a biodegradable organic mulch, layer it on as thick as you want! It's great for your soil and will protect your plants from temperature changes, weeds, and even some evaporation.
Your tomato plants also need a lot of food to grow their best. Fortunately, this is easy and inexpensive to provide. If using Espoma Tomato-tone® fertilizer, give continued feedings throughout the season, every two weeks throughout the garden season (generally May through August), adding one cup for every 5 feet of row (or 3 tablespoons per plant). Water thoroughly after application. Twice a month, you can toss in some seaweed, which is a growth enhancer (and which is 100% natural -- no potentially harmful chemicals to worry about, and it's completely safe around children, pets, and every other plant in the garden, which will love it!).
Tomatoes prefer a deep, thorough soaking once or twice a week to lighter, more frequent watering. This encourages deep roots that grow down into the soil (where they can find other sources of water), so you can actually use less water with heavier, less frequent soakings.
Once you begin to see fruit, ease up on the watering. Your tomatoes will be even tastier with a little less water.
Use color to determine when to harvest your tomatoes. When they're red (or pink, or yellow, depending on which variety you're growing!), they're ready to be picked -- don't wait and let them get soft. If you still have tomatoes popping up when the first frost is threatening in autumn, pick them green and ripen them in a cool, dry place inside.
If you can keep from doing so, don't plant your tomatoes where peppers, eggplants, or tomatoes were planted the previous year. These veggies all belong to the same plant family and therefore have similar nutritional needs and are susceptible to similar diseases. Their presence one year can deplete soil of important nutrients and possibly leave remnants of diseases in leaf litter.
That's all there is to it! Just one more quick suggestion for a great crop: Marigolds! These annual flowers are the tomato's (and the pepper's) best friend. Marigolds kill nematodes, soil-borne pests that can easily destroy an entire pepper or tomato crop in no time flat. They also look gorgeous, and you can even eat them. Happy gardening!