• 66°

Some tips for growing healthy tomato plants

By Michael Fine

For the Salisbury Post

Spring has presented some obstacles for tomato crops across the central piedmont of North Carolina. Warm temperatures at the beginning of April coaxed many gardeners to set plants out earlier than normal in hopes of an early harvest.

Without protective covers over the plants, many gardeners suffered frost damage as a cold front moved into the Piedmont in late April. For tomato plants that were transplanted from mid to late May, last week’s storms brought massive amounts of rain, creating saturated soil that persisted for several days and drowned root systems in low-lying areas. These environmental pressures are not unusual for this time of year, which is why growers should plan their vegetable production system to withstand the most challenging of conditions.


Here are some tips to growing tomatoes that will help your plants thrive:


Site selection and soil


When selecting a site to grow your tomato plants, think about the plant’s natural history and try to model your garden plot to fit their native environment. For tomatoes, which originated throughout the Andes Mountains of Central and South America, this means selecting a site that resembles a well-drained, upland habitat that receives full sun. Tomatoes prefer sandy-loam soils with a PH of 6.0-6.8. If you are growing tomatoes in heavy clay soils, then consider adding compost to break up the clay particles and allow for better moisture and nutrient holding capacity.


Nutrient requirements of tomatoes


Nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, known as “primary nutrients,” are the three main ingredients in most fertilizers and are vital to tomatoes. Plant growth and chlorophyll production depend on nitrogen, while phosphorus helps tomatoes grow and cope with stress while aiding in energy production. Potassium fights disease, improves tomato quality and is also important to photosynthesis. These nutrients leach from the soil as tomatoes grow, so you want to add continuous, small dosages for maximum absorption.


Tomatoes need “secondary nutrients” to compliment the primary nutrients. They are calcium, magnesium and sulfur and are needed in lesser amounts than the primary nutrients. Calcium improves cell health, protecting against diseases and bruises. Tomatoes with higher levels of calcium are also more nutritious. Photosynthesis and chlorophyll both rely magnesium, which helps their overall quality. Sulfur is needed for proteins and amino acids; a deficiency in magnesium and sulfur harms growth and causes yellow leaves.


Tomatoes need micronutrients too. They are zinc, iron, boron, chloride, molybdenum, copper and manganese. Molybdenum helps tomatoes efficiently use nitrogen, while zinc helps regulate growth and promotes proper sugar consumption. Boron assists tomatoes in making use of nutrients and is also essential to the development of fruit and seeds.

Most store-bought fertilizer blends consist of the three main macro-nutrients while specialized blends of secondary and micro nutrient can be purchased through greenhouse industry suppliers. For individuals who wish to improve soil structure and amend their soils organically, composting is key. As organic matter breaks down, many of the nutrients needed to support plant growth are released into the soil. Nitrogen can be applied organically through the breakdown of manures or the intercropping of nitrogen fixing legumes such as clovers.


Trellising is key


There are many ways to correctly trellis your tomato plants. Cages, trellising lines hung from an overhead structure, or stake and string methods have all proven to work well. For determinate tomatoes which grow to a “determined” height and produce their full crop load in a short period of time, stake and string or short cages work fine. For indeterminate varieties, think about a trellising system that will support 10-foot vines or longer by the end of the season. A leader line hanging from a support structure works well for longer vines. Trellising plants allows for air to pass through the understory of the crop and reduces humidity levels around the plant. Just like our basements are prone to mold and mildew when damp air settles, the understory of a heavily-foliaged plants are more prone to fungal and bacterial build-ups when air cannot circulate throughout the plant.


For more information or help with your gardening endeavors this season, call the North Carolina Extension office, Rowan County Center at 704-216-8970 and ask to be put in contact with a horticulture agent.

About Post Lifestyles

Visit us on Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SalPostLifestyle/ and Twitter @postlifestlyes for more content

email author More by Post


East Spencer

East Spencer draws crowd for annual community day


In Rowan’s legislative races, Howard, Warren get off to strongest start in fundraising


From Navy SEAL to Medicare agent, Trent Waller looks to continue serving his community


In 13th Congressional District race, Budd, Huffman differ on government’s role in COVID-19 help


Rowan County Telecommunications joins new state digital 911 system


School board will consider scheduling public hearings for Faith, Enochville closures


Biz Roundup: Food Lion makes donation to support racial equality and justice


Republicans rally supporters at Saturday lunch


Budd holds wide lead over Huffman in fundraising, cash on hand


UPDATED: 1 shot, 5 in custody after shooting at haunted house that attracted 1,000 visitors


Trump picks conservative Amy Coney Barrett to fill Supreme Court seat


Deadly September propels Rowan County to 100 deaths from COVID-19


Highway Patrol charges man in hit-and-run after finding vehicle hidden in woods


NC elections board, Republicans at odds over absentee ballot rule changes


Voters struggling with witness rules in early voting


Trump expected to announce conservative Amy Coney Barrett for Supreme Court


County reports COVID-19 percent positive rate of 8%


Rowan County United Way sets $1.5 million goal at drive-in kickoff event


Blotter: Adult daughters accused of beating up mother

China Grove

China Grove firefighters injured after truck overturns


Salisbury VA to reopen entry, exit gates


Sheriff’s Office looking for suspect in Burlington Coat Factory theft


Requests for absentee ballots top 9,000 in Rowan


Spencer approves supplemental USDA loan for Park Plaza project