Published on 04/16/13

Grow your own tomatoes for tastier 'mater' sandwiches this summer

By Michael J. Wheeler

Homegrown vegetables are a must have for many Southerners during the summer.

The one vegetable, well technically fruit, that makes everyone’s mouth water in anticipation is the homegrown tomato. Nothing beats it.

Homegrown tomatoes are much better than any tomatoes you can buy from the grocery store, and the folks I know always say the first tomato of the season is the best.

Whether or not you are trying to grow tomatoes for the first time, or this is your 30th season, here are some tips to follow from the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension to make sure your harvest is plentiful.

Before you plant, incorporate four inches of new organic matter into the soil. This will encourage the tomato plants to spread roots and get established quickly.

Plant tomato plants deep. At planting, remove the leaves from the bottom of the plant and bury about two-thirds of the stem. This deep planting causes the plant to grow roots up and down the stem that is underground. This extra root system makes the plant stronger and more stable as it matures.

Add a good 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch. Wheat straw will go a long way to hold back weeds, keep the plants clean from rainfall and keep the soil moist in the middle of summer.

Speaking of rain and moisture, what if Georgia suffers from another dry summer? This is what causes many of the problems in vegetable gardens — improper watering.

Water your plants so the soil stays fairly and evenly moist. Avoid the extremes. Don’t let your plants go from being parched to being flooded. Water at the base of the plant; wetting the leaves encourages diseases.

Apply fertilizer to your tomatoes when they are planted. After that, they do not need much fertilization until the first tomatoes are the size of a dime or so. Pushing your tomatoes to grow will only encourage the growth of leaves and stems, not the fruit.

For more information on how to grow tomatoes, visit your local UGA Extension agent’s office, call your agent at 1-800-ASK-UGA1 or visit the website

Michael Wheeler is the University of Georgia Cooperative Extension coordinator in Hall County, Ga.

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