Wednesday, 28 April 2010

Tomato Plant Side Shoots

If you haven't grown tomatoes before, side shoots can be a bit confusing.

Here's a quick guide on which varieties to remove side shoots and which varieties to leave side shoots (sometimes called suckers) on the plant.

Tall Varieties
Remove side shoots on tall varieties like Moneymaker, Alicante, Gardener's Delight and Sungold.
Tall varieties are also called indeterminate or cordon.

Bush Varieties
Leave side shoots on bush varieties such as Tumbler, Tumbling Tom, Garden Pearl and Red Alert.
Bush varieties are also called determinate because they grow to a predetermined height.

Because bush varieties are only grow to between 1ft and 2ft high, they are great to grow in large pots and can be moved around the garden or patio if required.

The height of tall varieties means that they are going to stay in the same position all summer and are suitable for grow bags.

If you intend to grow tomatoes in your garden soil, it is likely that every bug under the sun will have a nibble on your tomato plants and tomatoes when they are ready, so unless you are an experienced gardener, I suggest you start with growing tomatoes in containers.

If you have any questions I'll be happy to answer them.

For more information on side shoots please visit the link below.

Sunday, 25 April 2010

Feeding Tomatoes

Tomato plants require regular feeding when they are producing tomatoes but before then, will only require the minerals and nutrients that are already found in new compost.

This means that feeding tomatoes isn't really necessary until the flowers have set and small the small fruit start to grow.

One of the mistakes that people who are new to growing tomatoes make is to give give small plants tomato food. This is only necessary for tomato plants when they are fruiting, feeding young plants a full strength dose of tomato food can sometimes cause root damage.

These are some of the ways I would feed my small plants, and plants not yet fruiting.

  • General purpose plant food at half strength.
  • Liquid seaweed extract 
  • An organic stimulant or tonic such as SB Plant Invigorator

Other nutrients that are sometimes used are epsom salts (magnesium sulphate) and extra calcium (to help prevent blossom end rot). Both of these "extras" may be given as a foliar feed to boost a plants intake of a particular nutrient, usually because of signs of a deficiency. The problem is however, as soon as symptoms appear in tomato plants, it is often too late to make much difference.

Don't get too concerned with feeding tomato plants because if you do, you'll probably kill them with kindness and give them too much.

To Sum Up

If plants have been transplanted into new compost - within the last four or five weeks - they do not need to be fed.

However, when transplanting, a half strength feed of general purpose food is helpful (but not essential) because it helps the plants become established in their new home.

Give tomato food (only) when plants start to fruit - little and often is the best way. Professional growers usually feed at every watering, at a reduced strength, so plants always have access to food as they need it.

Thursday, 22 April 2010

Don't Put All Your Toms In One Basket

If you're like me, you've sown tomato seeds this season and you probably have too many plants.

The problem is, the plants get bigger and bigger, need potting into bigger pots on a regular basis and the bag of compost gets lower and lower and it's back to the garden centre - again! (I know I should have bought that 3 for 2 offer).

If you have a lot of plants, especially the ones like Tumbling Tom that are suitable for hanging baskets, the temptation is to put too many plants into one basket.

In my experience one, two at the most, is the right amount because tomato plants need a reasonable amount of room for their roots. Also, the more plants you have in a hanging basket, the quicker it will dry out in warm weather.

One well grown plant can produce the same amount of tomatoes (or more) as two poorly grown plants that have had to struggle in crowded conditions.

So don't put all your toms in one basket - if you run out of room, the easiest and cheapest solution is to use a grow bag at three plants per bag.

See also: Tomato Quick Start Guide at the Tomato Growing website.

Monday, 19 April 2010

Know Your Nutrients - Feeding Tomatoes

There are three macro nutrients, three secondary nutrients and six micro nutrients.

The secondary and micronutrients are sometimes called trace elements and are not always present in tomato food, although they should be present in a good quality tomato feed and compost.

The problem is, tomato plants are heavy feeders and will require all twelve elements after the food in your grow bag or container has been used up. So check the contents of your tomato food and if it doesn’t contain all of the elements listed below, supplement it with a general feed such as miracle grow or some other plant food that contains trace elements.

Macro N-P-K

Nitrogen (N)   Macro nutrient - Under nitrogen deficiency, the older mature leaves gradually change from their normal green appearance to a much paler green. As the deficiency progresses these older leaves become uniformly yellow (chlorotic). Stunted growth and purpling/reddening along the veins on the underside of larger leaves.are also symptoms.

Phosphorus (P)   Macro nutrient - a distinct purpling of the stem, petiole (leaf branches) and the under sides of the leaves. If deficiency is severe, leaves can develop a blue-gray luster and growth may be stunted.

Potassium (K) Macro nutrient - Leaves show marginal tip burn (necrosis) and again, growth may be stunted.


Magnesium (Mg)  Secondary -magnesium deficiency generally starts with mottled yellowing (chlorotic) areas that develop in between the leaf veins. As the deficiency progresses, small brown patches develop in the yellow areas.

Calcium (Ca)  Secondary - show dying areas (necrosis) around the base of the leaves. Yellow/brown spots may also appear on the edge of leaves. These spots can also be surrounded by a sharp brown outlined edge. This often affects the older leaves first.

Sulfur (S) Secondary - The veins and petioles (leaf branches) show a very distinct reddish colour. and leaves turn yellow.


Iron (Fe)  Micro nutrient - show strong chlorosis (yellowing) at the base of the leaves with some green netting. Symptoms may also show yellowing of young leaves, while the veins remain green.

Manganese (Mn)  Micro nutrient - Shows a light chlorosis of the young leaves and netted veins of the mature leaves especially when they are viewed through transmitted light.

Boron (B) Micro nutrient - Younger leaves show a light yellowing/browning. A cluster of leaves develop in the same place. Leaf margins twist and leaves become brittle.

Copper (Cu)  Micro nutrient - Copper-deficient leaves  are curled, and their petioles bend downward. Leaves show a wilted appearance with yellow to brown patches. Mature leaves may become bleached between the veins.

Zinc (Zn)  Micro nutrient - The younger leaves become yellow and pitting develops in the interveinal upper surfaces of the mature leaves. Older leaves develop brown patches in between the veins. Young leaves very small and develop in a cluster in the same space.

Molybdenum (Mo)  Micro nutrient - Leaves show some mottled spotting along with some interveinal chlorosis (yellowing). An early symptom for molybdenum deficiency is a general overall chlorosis, similar to the symptom for nitrogen deficiency but without the reddish coloration on the undersides of the leaves. Upward cupping of the leaves may also be seen.
You will notice that deficiencies show themselves usually on the lower leaves first. That’s because plants put all they have into top growth first and lower, older leaves tend to be second in the queue!

Sunday, 4 April 2010

How to Grow Tomatoes - Beginners Guide

How to grow tomatoes - a beginners guide.

There is nothing like the taste of home grown tomatoes, yet on the other hand, the frustration of poor results can often put off the "would be" tomato grower from trying again the following season. By the time the crop has failed it is often too late to start from scratch in the same season.

However, here are some tips and advice to help the beginner avoid the diseases and other problems associated with growing tomatoes. Many experienced gardeners will tell you that tomatoes are easy to grow - they are if you have had previous experience and know especially what tomato plants don't like.
  1. Use new compost for seeds and plants because old soil or compost may contain all sots of nasties. Nutrients also degrade over time, so fresh comost (multi-purpose for example) is the most nutritious.
  2. Clean and sterilise all pots and containers used last season - especially if they were used for tomatoes.
  3. When seeds germinate, keep the seedlings in as light a position as possible to prevent them from becoming leggy.
  4. Transplant seedlings into individual pots 3inch or slightly larger and increase pot size as plants grow.
  5. Don't feed plants with tomato food until after pea-like tomatoes start to form as the flowers die. If plants are regularly potted-on into bigger pots containing new compost, they won't need to be fed as there is enough food in the compost.
  6. Don't remove the flowers as these are the future tomatoes.
  7. Stand plants in trays of water only when watering, then allow compost to almost dry out. Tomato plants need both moisture and air to grow a good root system and if they are stood in water all the time they will be vulnerable to disease.
  8. Contrary to popular opinion, tomatoes don't like rain because they hate water on their leaves - especially overnight when the temperature drops. Wet leaves for just a few days and your lovely little plants will probably get blight - this is very bad!
  9. Lastly, tomato plants can't cope with frost, or near frost temperatures, so keep them indoors overnight until after the last frost in your area.
Following the above tips will give a very good chance of success, by the way, cherry tomatoes are among the easiest to grow and a great place to start for beginners.

More tips and advice on how to grow tomatoes, especially for beginners, may be found at tomato growing.