5 Secrets to Increasing Your Tomato Yield
Get our tips for gigantic backyard tomato harvests
Whether you’re a seasoned farmer or a beginning gardener, here are a few tips that will help you increase your tomato yield for your backyard plants.
Prepare the Soil
A young tomato plant’s development begins with soil. Tomato plants don’t like to have “wet feet.” If your soil doesn’t drain excess moisture away, you’ll have problems. At the same time, tomatoes are water lovers and require lots of moisture to produce well. It’s a delicate balancing act.
I like to begin with soil filled with lots of compost. Both composted plant matter and composted steer manure are my go-tos. These inputs add lots of organic matter to the soil and help hold and absorb extra water for your plants.
Next, loosen up the soil in your beds. You’ll want to plant your tomatoes deep, so work the soil to the depth you expect to plant. Make sure you’ve loosened it at least 12 to 18 inches in diameter as well. This gives a tomato plant plenty of space to throw out new roots.
Before transplanting, add some specific amendments in the planting hole and work them into the soil.
Tomatoes are heavy feeders. After all, they’re developing a ton of fruit. Tomatoes require primary nutrients (nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium) and secondary nutrients (calcium and magnesium), which are necessary but in lesser amounts.
Balance is key here, and knowing when to fertilize is also important. It’s recommended that you fertilize tomatoes with a blend that’s low in nitrogen, medium in potassium and low in phosphorous.
When planting, give tomatoes an early boost by working a little fertilizer into the soil in the planting hole so roots have easy access. Try adding blood meal, bone meal, worm castings and powdered eggshell when planting. This mixture provides a quick, water-soluble nitrogen source (blood meal). It ensures that there is phosphorous for strong roots (bone meal). Calcium comes from eggshells. Worm castings provide very little nutritionally but add beneficial microbes to the soil. These microbes help the plant with nutrient uptake.
The five essential nutrients for tomatoes and what each does for the plant:
1. Nitrogen provides a quick rush of growing energy for foliage.
2. Potassium helps in the development of sugars. It improves the fruit’s skin, color, longevity after harvest and taste. It also aids in resistance to plant diseases.
3. Phosphorous is necessary for starting seedlings and developing a healthy root system.
4. Calcium enhances your canopy growth, helping your plant to fill out. It also reduces the chance of developing blossom end rot.
5. Magnesium helps the plant to flower and set fruit.
TIP: Nitrogen, potassium and phosphorous leach from the soil as tomatoes grow, so you must replace them with fertilizer.
TIP: To encourage flowering, use Epsom salt dissolved in water (about 1-2 tablespoons per gallon of water) as a foliar spray. This provides magnesium. For a potassium boost, use a liquid seaweed fertilizer just as the tomatoes are setting fruit.
Tomatoes are unique in that they can develop roots at any point along their stem, so planting them deeper allows for more root growth and a stronger plant overall.
Gauge the depth based on the size of the plant. For instance, if the tomato plant is about 12 inches in height, bury 2 to 3 inches of the stem beneath the soil. Prune off lower branches to allow for airflow. The deeper you plant, the more roots your plant can develop.
Even if you’re planting in pots, select deeper pots—at least 12 inches in height. Your tomatoes will thank you with an increased harvest.
Prune for Healthy Plants
If you’re growing a determinate tomato, which include varieties that grow to a fixed mature size and ripen all their fruit in a short period, very little pruning is necessary. Remove branches close to the soil level for good airflow, and that’s all that’s required.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vining plants that continue to grow, set and ripen fruit throughout the season. These varieties need a bit more work. They tend to produce axillary buds, also called sucker shoots. The suckers appear between the stem and side branch. Removing these provides good airflow and prevents the plant from being top-heavy.
Until your plant is large enough to support fruit, pinch off flowers that appear. Give it enough time to develop to support the weight of a bunch of juicy tomatoes.
Consistency in watering is absolutely necessary. Tomatoes like even moisture in their soil. Drip irrigation is ideal, as it keeps the foliage dry. One to 2 inches of water per week is perfect but plants may need more water in extreme heat.
Use mulch under the plants to prevent moisture evaporation. I prefer to use straw mulches, but you can use wood chip or leaves if you prefer.