MASTER GARDENER: Tips to help you grow the best tomatoes

Beefsteak tomatoes are virus-resistant. (Courtesy)

Beefsteak tomatoes are virus-resistant. (Courtesy)

Home-grown tomatoes are a favorite of almost every gardener, amateur or seasoned. But how do you grow the best tomatoes?

First, know the pH of your soil which needs to be between 5.8 and 6.5 (MSU Extension Service says above 6). Simply take a soil sample to the county extension office and for a small fee, you will ascertain your pH level and what to do to modify it.

For a better chance at being a successful tomato grower, choose plants that are virus-resistant such as Beefsteak, Better Boy and Celebrity. Viruses are one of the problems gardeners face in growing good tomatoes.

Choose an area that is well-drained and with as much direct sunlight as possible. Amend your soil with good organic matter (compost, aged manure, etc.) and use slow-release or water-soluble fertilizer.

Plant your tomatoes deep in your soil with only a portion of the plant above ground. This will give a strong root system for your plants. Tomatoes must have support so the best thing to do is to add the support while the plants are very small. You may choose to use wire cages or stakes and twine (not nylon twine as it may cut your plant). If the fruit is allowed to touch the ground, it will rot.

Keep your plants well-watered when rainfall is scarce. Each plant needs about one inch of water per week to produce good fruit. If your tomatoes do not get enough water, blossom end rot occurs and plants need to be pulled up and discarded. If you must water with an overhead sprinkler, be sure leaves have time to dry before sunset to protect your plants from fungal diseases.

Tomatoes often need to be treated with insecticides and fungicides because our climate encourages pests and fungi. There are organic products on the market or you can find “recipes” to make your own. Preventive care is usually the best bet.

With healthy plants and good care, you should reap the delicious results of your labor – juicy, ripe tomatoes!

Kay Martin, a Master Gardener, is a trained volunteer of the Mississippi State University Extension Service. For gardening questions, call the Help Center at (662) 620-8280 in Lee County or (866) 920-4678 outside Lee County and leave a message.