Challenging conditions can test tomato growers


Tomatoes grow best in rich, well-drained soil with plenty of sun.

Photo by Susan Brown
Published: Thursday, July 17, 2014 at 01:11 PM.

Tips on Growing Tomatoes

“Ain’t nothing better than a home-grown, one-slicer tomato sandwich,” commented the exasperated gardener visiting Cooperative Extension’s Plant Clinic last week, “but all my plants either die before I get even one tomato or stop producing when it gets hot.” Even seasoned gardeners often share this fellow’s frustration in the quest for a tasty tomato in the challenging conditions of southeastern North Carolina.  Diseases that attack the roots and the leaves, nematodes, poor soils and, yes, even the heat, conspire to limit your success with this fruit once known as love apple.  

Tomatoes grow best in rich, well-drained soil with plenty of sun. Unfortunately, we have both well-drained and poorly-drained soils, but few that would be considered “rich.”  So, that means you have some work to do.

Test your soil

Use the soil testing service available through Cooperative Extension (at the Arboretum in Wilmington) to find out about the basic fertility of your garden spot including the often discussed pH. Except during the lab’s busy winter months, the service is still free.

Soil pH is important because it affects how your plants take up the nutrients they need to grow and thrive.  Living along the coast means pH’s can range from very acidic (3.5) to fairly alkaline (8.0).  Anything below 6.0 or above 7.0 is going to limit your tomato success. 

The soil test will recommend lime to raise the pH if it’s too low, sulfur to lower it if it’s too high and suggest fertilizers and amendments to keep those tomatoes happy.

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