My Dirty Little Secrets For The Tomato Lover

You’re in luck! Late spring through midsummer is the prime time for planting tomatoes in Southern California’s coastal areas. If you are a tomato lover like me, you can’t ever get enough of learning about or eating them. It satisfies your stomach and your soul when you grow them yourself. What would life be without home-grown tomatoes anyway?

In my many years of gardening, I have learned from the best of tomato-growing enthusiasts, and have gained many informative tips about growing tangy, delicious, mouthwatering tomatoes. So, I would like to pass on my dirty little tomato secrets from my gardening past to you.


LOCATION: First of all, you need a sunny location. Tomatoes like it hot. They will need at least 6 hours of full sun – is even better. Avoid planting near trees with evasive roots. Plant away from large structures on the south side of garden.

AMENDMENTS: It is always good advice to dig at least a 3’ deep by 2’ wide hole and amend the soil before you plant your seedlings. Adding a mixture of worm castings, chicken manure and organic compost combined with the original soil, will really help your tomato plant’s health.

BABY ASPIRIN: Yes, this component helps boost the plant’s immune system, just like it does for us. A diluted solution of aspirin water for plants provides accelerated germination and some resistance to disease and pests. Aspirin in vegetable gardens has been shown to increase plant size and yield.

SOFTEN THE SOIL: If you are dealing with clay soil, gypsum is a must. Sprinkle it all over the base of the hole and mix in with other amendments, fertilizer, and soil. Gypsum will break down the clay, making the soil more accepting for the deep roots that your mature tomato plant needs. Gypsum also helps with blossom end rot.

TOMATO FERTILIZER: Fertilizers improve the supply of nutrients in the soil, directly affecting plant growth. Use a high-phosphorus, organic, slow-release fertilizer that is specially formulated for tomatoes – with a NPK ratio like 3-4-6 or 4-7-10. Don’t over-fertilize. Too little is better than too much. Tomato plants require enough phosphorus supply to ensure a healthy fruit set. Try Dr. Earth’s or EB Stone’s Organic Tomato Fertilizer. This is dry fertilizer that should be mixed with soil at the base of the plant, and the quantity will depend on the planting conditions.

EPSOM SALT: Add Epsom salt to the soil to aid germination, early root and cell development, photosynthesis, plant growth, and to prevent blossom-end rot. Late in the season, use an Epsom salt spray to increase tomato and pepper yield and keep plants green and bushy, early in the season.

AMENDMENTS: Soil amendments improve a soil’s physical condition. Organic matter added to your garden area increases bulk, nutritional value, and the soil’s drainage. A combination of compost, worm castings and chicken manure are good to mix in with your soil. Amend your vegetable garden all year long.

PLANT THEM DEEP: It is better to plant transplants instead of sowing seed because the germination process is long. When planting your transplants, plant them deep. There are little fuzzy beginnings of roots at the base of your plant. By removing the bottom leaves and burying them below the fuzzy root area you will give your plant a stronger immune system. Only put one transplant in each hole. Leave room for your tomato plant to thrive.

TEASE THE ROOTS: Remove the transplant from its pot and gently tease out the roots. You don’t want them to grow in a tight circle. Fanning out the roots will help develop a stronger root system, making for a healthier plant.

SUPPORT YOUR TOMATOES: You must anticipate your tomato plant’s growth early. Tomatoes grow fast and it is best to be ready before it is too late. For each of my tomato plants I use a tomato cage that you can buy at your local nursery, then I take hog wire that I zip tie together to make a 5’ high, 3’ to 4’ in diameter cylinder. Your plant will look a little lonely at first; but trust me, once that baby gets growing, it will take all of that real estate and more sometimes!

NOT TOO MUCH WATER: Tomato plants are really hardy but not if you water them too much. The water drives air out of the soil around the plants’ roots, and eventually the roots drown and die. A deep soak a couple times a week is enough once established. Stick your finger into the soil to check if you need to water. Water in the early morning; you want the soil to be crusty before the sun goes down to prevent disease and pests. Once tomato plants begin to fruit and ripen in mid to late summer, cut back on watering to help concentrate the flavors and reduce splitting and cracking.

Supporting tomato vines

LET THEM BREATHE: In southern California we have nice warm days and cool nights. That means your tomato plant can get a little chilly and damp at night. Tomatoes get diseases when they are continually wet. It is key to let your tomato plant breathe. To help improve airflow and cut down on the chance of disease, remove the leaves along the bottom 12 inches of the stems of indeterminate tomato plants.

MULCH: Materials added to or laid on the top of the soil around your plants to further insulate, protect and aid in weed control is called mulch. Hay, plastic sheeting, straw, shredded leaves, grass clippings, bark chips, newspaper can all be used as mulch. Allow a 2” ring around each of your plants. Never put the mulch up against the base of the plant, it will only cause disease.

There is so much more that I want to teach you about growing tomatoes! I could go on and on. I guess I will have to share more of my dirty little tomato secrets in another article. There’s nothing like a home-grown tomato! If you were only going to grow one thing and you asked my advice (from one tomato lover to another), I would urge you to grow tomatoes. They truly do make life more flavorful!

Nature is amazing! Get out there! Embrace and enjoy!

Kelly Emberg, the model gardener

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Caging tomatoes for support

Watering tomato plant with a drip system

Tomatoes growing in raised bed