How to Plant and Fertilize Tomatoes

May 27, 2011 | 3:05 pm

As you may recall in March I started tomato seeds inside. I wanted to prove to myself that I could successfully start plants from seed. I often hear master gardeners talk about their seed starting success; I guess I wanted to be just like them. Ha!! To the fault of my busy schedule, the little plants remained little plants and are not nearly as large as the ones I see at the garden centers. Today, I broke down and bought big tomato plants to replace my pathetic little ones I planted two weeks ago. I guess it’s my garden ego needing nurtured. A friend from Texas posted pictures of her freshly harvested tomatoes today. Although she is in zone nine and I am in zone six, I felt my competitive spirit stirring.

I started to plant one of my newly purchased tomato plants and, well, in my carelessness, dang it, I broke it! I couldn’t even blame my daughters for this one! When planting tomatoes you are supposed to bury part of the stem in the soil. Amazingly, tomatoes will grow roots along the buried stem, giving the plant more roots. When I was bending the stem, I bent it too far and broke it right in half. The good news is that I have a reason to go back to the garden store. (I just can’t get enough of that place.)

Before breaking the plant in half, I dug a hole and added one tablespoon of a 10-10-10 all purpose plant food, containing 10 percent nitrogen, 10 percent phosphors and 10 percent potassium. Tomatoes are heavy feeders, which mean they need a lot of nutrients to make their red juicy fruit. After covering the plant with soil, I laid down a layer of mulch (newspaper + straw). This mulch will hold in moisture and keeps the weeds from growing. Those pesky weeds steal nutrients, water, and light from my tomato plants. I won’t have to fertilize again until the first little green tomatoes (about the size of a walnut) appear. I will continue to feed my tomatoes by side-dressing about every two to three weeks. Tomatoes are finicky; my advice today is to be careful not to over-fertilize them because it can cause blossom drop, excess vegetation, and fruit deformities.

I will start seeds again next year with the goal of producing larger plants that will be a little less embarrassing. Maybe while I’m at the garden center getting a new LARGE tomato plant, I should ask their advice on starting tomatoes from seed. One can’t know too much when it comes to those mouth watering tomatoes.