So, you visited the farmers market and came home with a tomato plant? Yep, even inexperienced gardeners can grow tomatoes, and now is the time to get going in Arizona. If you grow one thing this season, grow tomatoes! Salads, sauces, stews, and even jams can be made from tomatoes! Want to avoid fouling it up — and actually want to eat from your new plant? Here's what to do.
First off timing is key. Get a plant and plant it now. Do not wait until mid-April or May. This will only cause you sadness. Tomatoes do best when air temperatures are between 55 degrees and 95 degrees. Buy a plant from a local seller and avoid the big-box stores. A local seller will be selling tomatoes that do well in Arizona and have been acclimatized. Vilardi Gardens sells plants at many farmers markets as well as Baker nursery, but there are lots of good options. Plus, local sellers have unusual varieties like black cherry, cherokee purple and indigo rose tomatoes. Yellow pear and early girl also do well in the Phoenix area.
The warmer the soil the faster the tomato grows. First, take a look at the "maturity" time on the label of your plant. Try to pick one with the shortest maturity time. You'll also want to purchase mulch, shade cloth, fish emulsion and calcium for fertilization as well as a "tomato cage," which helps the tomato plant climb up and keeps tomatoes off the ground and away from insects. Bring your plants home and find a spot to grow them. Tomato plants can get pretty big so pick a large space, perhaps anywhere from a square foot to two feet by two feet just to be sure to avoid crowding.
Although there is much controversy about tomato plants being "self pollinating," whatever the case, you might try planting it near other things will flowers that attract bees, such as basil. You can also gently shake take the flowering branches to help the pollen drop. Morning sun is preferable for most tomatoes and you'll want to place then where you can water deeply one to three times a week but avoid getting water on the plant's leaves. Shade cloth can be used to cover tomatoes as it gets warmer or your sun moves, but you might be able to keep your plant going if the plant gets sun from 6 a.m. until noon and then shade from noon into the evening.
When you go to put the plant in the ground, remember to plant your tomato plant sort of "sideways." (it will straighten toward the sun) and try to plant your plant a little deeper than it was in the pot it arrived in. If you've got a good sized plants, pinch off the bottom leaves. What soil to plant in? A mix of regular garden soil and a bit of compost works out great. If you're planting a tomato in a similar place as you've had one the previous season, mix in new soil and a bit of cornmeal.
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Water deeply, but not everyday. Some types of tomatoes need more water than others, but generally speaking you could water deeply twice a week right now, and then three to four times a week when it gets really hot. Once you've got your tomato going, you'll notice it starting to flower. This is the time to fertilize. Also as the plant gets larger, you'll want to put the cage in the ground around the plant, ensuring you don't place a stake through any part of the plant or root. Tomatoes feed quickly to fertilize every three weeks.
If you don't start seeing fruit, the plant might be getting too much nitrogen, which helps it grow, but not enough phosphorus, which helps flowering and fruiting. At this point, go to a nursery and find a fertilizer with higher levels of phosphorus than nitrogen.
And there you have it! Get going now and enjoy tomatoes in a matter of weeks.