In the Garden:
Coastal and Tropical South
March, 2005
Regional Report

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What do gardeners really want? Tomatoes!

Tomato Zen

Gardeners worry over the strangest things. For all the discussion and articles devoted to tomatoes, it seems to me that people worry over them at this time of the year as much as taxes and how to pay for college. To help you sleep better tonight, take these tips and do them in the morning.

Growing Attitude
Bragging rights to the neighborhood's best tomatoes can be a matter of smart choices going into the season. Knowing that your soil (or soilless mix) has the right nutrients and the ability to manage water appropriately builds your confidence in the future harvest. Amend native soils with organic matter or choose a complete potting mix. Good soil has advantages, including more minerals and less need for irrigation. Plants can grow deep roots, staying anchored even in summer thunderstorms that can bring containers crashing to the deck.

Not the "Real Deal"
The upside of avoiding real dirt is twofold. Blight fungus often splashes up from the garden soil onto leaves, but if there's no dirt, one source of devastating blight is eliminated. Soilless mixes can reduce the chance that your plants will get wet feet and blossom end rot. Tomatoes cannot tolerate soggy soils or bone dry ones, either, and moderation is the key to water management in tomatoes. The control afforded by soilless mixes can make that a cinch to achieve, even for new gardeners.

Fertilizer Facts
However you grow tomatoes, the next rung in the bragging ladder comes in understanding their need for nutrition. Tomatoes are like infants in that they are either eating or drinking every hour that they're awake, and growing almost nonstop. Your job as their parent is to make sure their needs are met so they grow and you get your reward in delicious fruit.

The plants need to be on a regular regime of balanced or specialized tomato fertilizer -- weekly or more often if you use a product mixed in water, or every two weeks if using a granular formula. Add "fertilize tomatoes" to your to-do list.

At least they don't need bibs, but an inch of mulch does help keep things neat, as well as hold down the splash effect that can deliver blight to the plants.


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