'Indigo Rose' tomatoes on the vine. Photos Leslie Halleck

In the Garden: Tomato Care 101

We talk about how, and when, to fertilize.

This is the gardening question du jour. Tomatoes are pretty much the most popularly grown garden fruit, but that doesn’t make them the easiest to grow. Texas offers up plenty of climate obstacles to growing perfect tomatoes. Beyond the weather, when and how do we fertilize tomatoes?

If you planted your tomatoes early enough, in at least 6-hours of direct sun and provided consistent moisture, you should have baby tomato fruits setting on the vine now. That’s your signal to start up a regular fertilization regimen. When you continually fertilize tomato plants through spring, before they’ve set fruit, you can often end up with fantastic plants but no tomatoes. Too much Nitrogen prior to flowering and fruit set will encourage plants to keep putting their energy into more green leafy growth, instead of into flowers and fruit production. Here in Texas you have to get plants flowering and setting fruit before the summer heat. If you plant too late or over-fertilize in spring, plants can go into heat-delay and you get little to no harvest.

Getting your tomatoes off to a good start begins with adding organic compost and composted manure to the soil at planting time. Also, work in a dry organic fertilizer at time of planting. Don’t fertilize again until you see fruit set.

'Celebrity' tomatoes on the vine.
‘Celebrity’ tomatoes on the vine.

I could get really technical about exactly how to fertilize your plants. But I’ve found that when gardening practices are too complicated, most folks throw up their hands and do nothing. So here is my basic recommendation: Once baby fruit is about 1/4 it’s mature size, start feeding your tomato plants with an organic tomato or vegetable fertilizer about every other week. That’s a side-dressing of dry fertilizer. If you’re using liquid feed, such as Hasta Gro, apply it to the roots and foliage weekly.  Mix and apply per the application rates on the package.

Want to start your fall tomato transplants from seed? Do it now! Plant into the garden in late-June through early July.