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I've been gardening and writing about gardening for more than 20 years, yet I find I'm always learning new things about the plants, insects and other critters that call my backyard home. That's the great thing about gardening — it's never boring! I've worked as a landscaper, on an organic farm, as a research technician in a plant pathology lab and ran a small cut-flower business, all of which inform my garden writing. Someone once asked me when I'll be finished with my gardens, to which I replied, "Never!" For me, gardening is a process, not a goal.
WITH the start of each growing season, gardeners across the country look forward to the thrill of picking their first ripe tomatoes. However, chilly temperatures and fickle spring weather can delay planting and slow the growth of heat-loving tomato plants. Here are six ways to get a jump on the growing season and shorten the wait for those first juicy fruits.
4th of July tomato
1. Choose a Fast-Maturing Variety
Plant a quick grower, such as the 4th of July Tomato, and you'll be eating your first ripe tomato in as little as 49 days after transplanting. Compare this with varieties that take 80 or 90 days to reach maturity — you'd have to wait an extra month or more for ripe fruit. When selecting transplants or purchasing seeds to start indoors, check variety descriptions for the number of days to maturity.
2. Warm Up the Soil
Tomatoes grow best in warm soil; chilly soil will slow their growth. If your garden beds are covered with mulch, pull it back in early spring to expose the soil to the sun's warmth. Placing a sheet of clear plastic over the bed will also help. The soil in containers and raised beds warms up faster than garden soil, so they're ideal for heat-lovers like tomatoes.
3. Harden Off Plants
Whether you grew your own tomato plants from seed or purchased them, they'll need hardening off to acclimate them to outdoor conditions. About a week before you plan to set the seedlings into the garden, place them in a protected spot outdoors (partly shaded, out of the wind) for a few hours, bringing them in at night. Gradually, over the course of a week or 10 days, expose them to more and more sunshine and wind.
Our Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator lets you skip the hardening off process. Place one of these mini-greenhouses over each tomato seedling at planting time to protect it as it acclimates.
Fickle spring weather can pose challenges for heat-loving plants like tomatoes. Our Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator creates a warm, protected environment for tomato transplants, so you can set them out into the garden weeks earlier. You'll be amazed at how much faster plants grow — which means harvesting your first juicy fruits sooner. It's also ideal for peppers, eggplants, basil and other heat-loving plants.
4. Protect Young Tomato Plants from Wind and Chill
Temperatures in the 50s and cooler dramatically slow plant growth, and wind dries out plants and can cause fragile stems to break. Plant your tomatoes on the south side of the house to take advantage of the warmer microclimate. Or, use our Pop-Up Tomato Accelerator to create a protected microclimate anywhere.
5. Wait to Apply Mulch
Leave the soil bare around new transplants for the first month or so, to allow the sun to continue to warm the soil. Once summer weather arrives in earnest, you can apply a 2" layer of straw to help conserve soil moisture.
6. Support Plants
Flopping stems and sprawling foliage shade the maturing fruit, which delays ripening. Install sturdy cages, ladders or other supports at planting time to keep plants upright.
Last updated: 3/29/17
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