By Michael Stanley
Growing tomatoes in Eastern NC can be challenging. There are many diseases that threaten the success of gathering vine ripe tomatoes in the summer garden. Planting tomatoes properly and choosing disease resistant varieties is the first step to successfully growing tomatoes. To start off, you want to plant your tomatoes in well drained soil amended with plenty of compost, especially if you have sandy soil. Plant your tomatoes where they will get at least eight hours of sunlight and try to avoid wetting the leaves when watering. Space them about 3ft apart to allow for good air circulation.
Tomatoes will need support so be sure to cage or stake tomatoes after planting. Lime tomato soils to pH 6.5 to 6.7 – Home gardens not limed in the past 2 to 3 years may need 2 cups of lime for each plant. A soil test can determine if you need to add lime. The lime should be worked into the soil 12 inches deep. Fertilize with 8-8-8 or 5-10-10 and avoid high nitrogen fertilizers. Applying too much fertilizer at one time can result in blossom-end rot. Using liquid fertilizers is good right after planting or for a quick boost but often contains too much nitrogen. Applying to much nitrogen will also result in a lot of green growth but little fruit.
Adding landplaster or lime at planting will help prevent blossom-end rot. There are also liquid calcium sprays available to help stop blossom-end rot. Using mulch around your tomato plants will help conserve moisture and may also help reduce the risk of blossom-end rot.
When choosing tomato varieties to grow, there are several things to consider. First, choose varieties that have as much disease resistance as possible and grow several different varieties. You will see a series of letters on the plant tag when purchasing tomato plants. Each letter represents a disease that variety is resistant to. Choosing disease resistant plants will increase your chances of success.
Next you will want to decide whether to choose determinate or indeterminate varieties. Determinate plants produce most of their fruit at one time and usually don’t grow quite as tall. Indeterminate varieties grow larger and produce over a longer period of time. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest and most productive to grow. Heirloom varieties usually have the best flavor but lack disease resistance.
There are several diseases that can affect tomatoes; a lot of them are preventable such as early blight, late blight, and bacterial speck. These can be prevented by using products such as chlorothalonil, mancozeb, neem oil, or copper soap.
Most wilt diseases live in the soil and cannot be cured. Avoid planting tomatoes in the garden where these have been a problem before. You may consider growing your tomatoes in containers if you have had problems with wilt in the past. Tomato spotted wilt virus is another disease there is no treatment for. When these viruses are detected remove the plants immediately.
- V – Verticillium Wilt
- F – Fusarium Wilt
- FF – Fusarium races 1 & 2
- FFF – Fusarium races 1,2, & 3
- N – Nematodes
- T – Tobacco Mosaic Virus
- A – Alternaria Stem Canker
- St – Stemphylum Gray Leaf Spot
- TSWV – Tomato spotted wilt virus
You will also want to watch for stink bugs and tomato horn worms. Stink bugs can be treated with products containing permethrin of bifenthrin. Horn worms can be controlled using spinosad or dipel.
Growing a nice crop of tomatoes in your garden is possible but you must be proactive when it comes to disease control and the rewards will be well worth your time.