Growing tomatoes outdoors – my top tips — Jane Perrone



4. Add fertiliser as they grow, but not too much: overfeeding can dilute the flavour. Use tomato fertiliser rather than any old fertiliser you have to hand, as it needs to be lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous than most all-purpose feeds. I favour regular additions of comfrey tea and Maxicrop seaweed plant food.

5. Remove any shoots that appear between the main stem and leaves emerging from it. Why? These cause the plants to divide their fruiting energy between two stems, weakening the plant and stopping it from producing fruit. If you act quickly, you can turn these cuttings into new plants! Let the sideshoots grow to around 8cm long, then cut them off and pop into a glass of water. Once roots appear and are around 5cam long, pot them up to make a new plant.

There’s an exception to the pinching rule – if your tomato cultivar is a ‘bush’ or ‘determinate’ type, it will not need to be pruned in this way as it’s been bred to grow bushy.

6. I used to advise removing the lower leaves as the plant develops, but the collective wisdom now is that this doesn’t really help produce good fruits. If the lowest pair of leaves start to go yellow and the rest of the plant is healthy, cut them away, but don’t be too brutal.

7. Water daily if they are being grown in a growbag or container. Rainfall will almost definitely not be enough for plants in containers: if rain is forecast you can help plants absorb the rain by watering first, as already-damp soil will soak up more moisture than hydrophobic soil. Help the water to sink in rather than running off by making a shallow indentation in the soil around the plant – if you really want to ensure the water gets to the roots, when planting out you can sink a plastic bottle, bottom chopped off and cap removed, into the soil next to the plant to act as a funnel. Mulching with newspaper or grass cuttings will also help to conserve water. If your tomatoes are splitting, this is usually a sign that watering is too irregular . Blackened bottoms to the fruits – known as blossom end rot – is also usually a sign of underwatering.

8. Tie the growing stem into a sturdy stick to stop it toppling over, adding new ties as the plant grows: for a large, strong plant this may be as frequently as every three inches.

9. Once four or five trusses have formed, pinch out the main growing stem to halt the plant’s growth. That way, the plant will put its energies into producing the fruits already forming rather than spreading itself too thin.

10. The disease blight can be a real issue for outdoor tomatoes. Watch out for black blotches appearing on the stem and leaves: when blight strikes there is not much you can do other than harvest what fruit there is and try to ripen unripe fruits indoors. When watering, avoid splashing water onto the foliage. Growing blight-resistant tomatoes such as ‘Crimson Crush’ will help. More in-depth advice from the RHS here.

11. Pick the ripe tomatoes regularly, taking the time to rub the leaves between your fingers and suck in the delicious tomato plant smell. It’s one of a veg grower’s great pleasures (also applies to blackcurrant bushes).

What have I missed? I am sure you have loads of tomato growing expertise to share – add in your suggestions below …

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