Congratulations! You’ve made it through the tender stages of growing from seed or transplanting your tomato plants. You watched them shoot up with vigor and you welcomed the spring rains. You saw your first flower and rejoiced and got as excited as I did when you found your first green tomato!
Those green babies took long enough but they eventually turned red and you finally harvested your first picking.
But like a child in his teenage years, the hardest part of growing your tomatoes may not be behind you. In fact, mid-summer poses questions and challenges all their own when it comes to growing the most popular vegetable in the home garden.
Though my list isn’t exhaustive, below are the top mid-summer tomato concerns I’ve seen and what I’ve done about them:
My tomato crop got hit hard with early blight this year. As I explained in detail in this post, early blight is a fungus that must be dealt with swiftly.
Just yesterday I passed by a garden I see every season. Their tall tomato plants were all but dead; brown and yellow shriveled leaves made up all but the tips of these plants. In past seasons I’ve blamed this decline on lack of rain, but we’ve been pretty fortunate this year. In fact, heavy rains can make blight worse.
So far, though my tomato plants look more like trees since I’ve had to cut off many stems that were affected by the blight, I’ve been able to keep it from spreading too far upward and hurting the production of the plant. In fact, I’ve harvested around 30 pounds of tomatoes already from these plants and they are still producing!
My weekly e-mail subscribers will recall my quest to rid my tomatoes of aphids early in the summer. Because I didn’t want to use even natural spray (even most natural sprays kill beneficial insects), I simply relocated a ladybug to my tomatoes. Within a few days the aphid population had been cut dramatically, and within a few weeks they were gone.
Now, I’m not sure if this is a fluke because it sure seemed too good to be true, but since ladybugs eat aphids, I’m assuming my educated guess worked.
As I looked at my tomatoes the other day, I recalled the days before fruiting when their sprawling stems boasted a deep shade of green. Now, they seem a little frazzled, though the abundance of tomatoes tells me they’re putting all their energy into their offspring and not so much to themselves anymore. (Can you see the striking correlation to motherhood?)
The truth is, now that the plant is putting its energy into producing fruit, it may need a boost of nutrition. I still feed my tomatoes by filling my emptied compost crock with water and pouring the “instant tea” on the tomatoes (instructions here). You can also add a few tablespoons of organic fertilizer around the base of the plant (called top-dressing) and water it in.
I have friends who swear by mixing Epsom salt in water and spraying it on their tomato plants, particularly the flowers, for an organic nutrient boost.
As we enter the hot summer, long periods of dry weather can wreak havoc on tomatoes. While established plants have deep roots to be able to withstand the dry periods to a point, if the dry period is followed by torrents of water (whether by a rainstorm or an over zealous gardener), this onslaught of sudden irrigation can overwhelm the plant and cause those almost-ripe tomatoes to split.
The best prevention is to make sure your tomatoes get a deep watering weekly, whether by rain or by supplemental irrigation.
I have to admit, I haven’t had much trouble with worms on my tomatoes. The best prevention I’ve found is to inspect your plants frequently and hand-pick any worms you see. Keep an eye out for the especially devastating tomato hornworm, which can decimate your plant in short order.
Although I haven’t had to treat my tomato plants for worms, I have used bT (Thuricide), an organic spray, for cabbage worms with great success. You spray it on the leaves and when the worm eats the leaves it will die. To my understanding, because beneficial insects don’t eat the leaves of your plants, they are safe. Just be sure and apply it when bees aren’t the most active, such as in the evenings.
One More Thing: Know What Kind of Tomato You Are Growing
If you’re new at growing tomatoes, it’s helpful for you to know whether the tomatoes you are growing are determinate or indeterminate. Determinate tomatoes (like Roma tomatoes) will yield most of their fruit at the same time. After this dominant fruiting period, I’ve had mine continue to produce sporadically throughout the season if the soil’s fertility is good. But in general, most of their fruiting occurs at once.
This is good to know because if you’re struggling with blight, worms, or are just having trouble with the plant, as long as the tomatoes are green, you’ll be able to get your crop. If the plant dies on you for some reason, simply pink the green tomatoes and let them ripen on the counter (do not put uncut tomatoes in the refrigerator). They won’t be as nutrient-dense or flavorful, but they will be perfectly edible and usable.
If, on the other hand, your plant is indeterminate, it will yield its fruits over the course of the season. In this case, you may find yourself having to repeatedly tie up its sprawling stems. You also will need to pay special attention to its watering needs and fertility, since you’ll be keeping it for the long haul.
But if you do run into fatal problems with an indeterminate tomato plant, you can, like with the determinate varieties, pick them green and let them ripen. Hopefully, though, that won’t be a problem!
I hope these suggestions help your tomatoes thrive in the mid-summer!
What tomato problems have you found in the middle part of the summer?
Want more garden tips and resources?