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Protect Your Plants – 4 Common Tomato Pests

When it comes to insects in your garden, don’t be quick to kill. Not all insects are enemies. In fact, most insects are essential players in your organic garden’s success. Others are neutral and don’t cause any harm. Yet some will ruin your harvest.

Spotting the difference between the good and the bad can be tricky, so keep your eyes peeled.

It doesn’t matter if you’re growing hybrids or heirlooms, there are a few pests you don’t want around. Identify harmful pests early before damage is done.

Four Common Tomato Plant Pests:

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

If you spot a hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand.

Hornworms – These destructive caterpillars can grow to about 3-3½” at full size, but their green color makes them difficult to spot. If you spot hornworms, spray with water or remove by hand. However, where there is one, there are usually more. If there is a large infestation, consider spraying tomato plants with an organic approved pest control.

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Photo courtesy of courtesy of Flex at en.wikipedia

Fruitworm – Adult tomato fruitworms are moths, typically yellow or olive in color. They often lay eggs near the leaves of the plant. If you see fruitworms, check leaves for eggs. Larvae feed on leaves and foliage before moving to the tomato, giving you more time to stop potential damage.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Whitney Cranshaw, Colorado State University, Bugwood.org

Potato Aphids – These tiny insects are usually found in dense clusters. Potato aphids are typically not serious enough to kill plants, but a large enough infestation can stunt growth and lead to mold and disease. If you spot an infestation, remove it and be sure to throw in the garbage. If thrown on the ground, aphids will re-infest the plant. To control, apply insecticidal soap

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Photo courtesy of USDA.

Beet Armyworm – Similar to the fruitworm, beet armyworm adults are moths with gray and brown upper wings and white or pale gray lower wings. They typically lay eggs on the underside of leaves. When larvae hatch, they feed on foliage before attacking the tomato itself. Remove beet armyworm caterpillars by hand before they become moths.

When it comes to tomato pests, the best way to stop damage is to spot pests early. Keep a close eye on your tomato plants, especially in the early stages. Introduce beneficial insects such as lacewings or ladybugs into your garden to naturally control common pests.

Pruning tomato plants and giving them the right support can also make pests easier to spot and keep bugs at bay.

For more tips on tomatoes, check out our Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes.

Tomato Woes – How to Solve Common Tomato Diseases

No other flavor in the garden can compete with sun-ripened tomatoes! Just seeing their bright, shiny color emerge gets us giddy!

We want to make sure you get to experience the joy of your homegrown, golden delights this year.

So, if you spot a worrisome sign on your tomatoes, here’s how to identify and fix it – the organic, natural way!

Dr. Tom A. To: How to Identify and Fix Common Tomato Diseases and Problems

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Photo courtesy of Dwight Sipler.

The Mark of Dark Spots. First, you’ll see tiny spots on tomatoes’ lower leaves, usually after the first fruit has set. From there, the spots grow larger and begin to look like a target. That’s early blight.

To fix, remove infected leaves as well as lower leaves. Water in the morning to prevent further spread of this fungus. Low nitrogen levels often cause early blight, so feed with Tomato-tone monthly.

Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Clemson University – USDA Cooperative Extension Slide Series, Bugwood.org

The Bruise Blues. If small, sunken spots or what looks like bruises appear on your ripe tomatoes, that’s anthracnose. This fungus emerges as the weather gets hot and humid – usually 80° or warmer.

So, harvest ripe tomatoes as soon as possible. These are safe to eat if you cut off the bruises. Then water tomatoes in the morning.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Missouri Botanical Garden.

So Many Spots. If tiny, greyish-brown dots cover your tomato leaves, Septoria leaf spot is to blame. Soon, leaves will fall off. Though, a harvest will usually still happen.

To remedy, remove all infected leaves. Then apply a copper fungicide – if you’re organic gardening.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Brown Bottom. See circular brown spots on the bottom of your half-grown tomatoes? That’s blossom-end rot, which is usually caused by a lack of calcium in the soil. Blossom end rot should only happen to a few tomatoes early in the season, not the whole bunch.

To fix, use an organic tomato fertilizer with calcium.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Photo courtesy of Victor M. Vicente Selvas

Built to Wilt. Wilting, curling leaves could be bad news for your tomatoes. If paired with stunted grown or browning veins or blotches, your tomatoes have Fusarium or Verticillium wilts. These diseases are caused by a super vicious fungus in the soil.

And, there’s no cure for it. Remove and rid your garden of these tomatoes. Do not compost. Then, solarize the soil to kill the fungus. Otherwise, when you plant veggies in the same area, they, too, will get this disease for the next 4-6 years.

Next time, when you’re growing tomatoes, select disease-resistant varieties to avoid some of these common problems.

Mulch Tomatoes Now to Save Time Later

Add mulch, a natural covering on top of soil, to keep moisture in, block weeds and provide added nutrients. But did you also know that mulch is particularly important for tomato plants?

If you grow tomato plants, then you have to understand the importance of mulch.

Why is Mulch So Important for Tomatoes?

1. Mulch Protects

Many tomato plants grow large, heavy fruit. Mulch protects the lowest-growing fruit from resting on the ground and developing rot.

2. Mulch Blocks Weeds

Weeds are usually no problem for tomatoes since the large plants, with their dense foliage, shade out and smother any weeds. However, mulch around staked or trellised plants will keep down those baby weeds, so they won’t rob the plants of water and nutrients.

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3. Mulch Saves Water

Staked and trellised plants usually benefit from mulch to save moisture. More exposed to sun and wind than unstaked plants, they lose more water through their leaves. It takes extra effort to provide them with an ample and even supply of moisture, but in dry climates, it’s worth it.

4. Mulch Keeps Plants Clean

A mulch blanket under your plants keeps soil from splashing onto the leaves, which helps prevent disease, something tomatoes are especially prone to.

How to Mulch Tomatoes

Many make the mistake of laying mulch around tomatoes too early. You should wait until late spring or until the ground has really warmed up. Adding mulch will inhibit soil from warming and delay the harvest a few weeks.

Once the soil has warmed, feed your tomatoes again with Tomato-tone. Then spread a 2-3” layer of organic mulch. Be sure to leave 2” of room around the stem so water can reach the roots. Water well.

The Best Organic Mulches for Tomatoes

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Shredded Leaves: Composted leaves are great for vegetable gardens because they provide natural weed protection and increase moisture retention.

Grass Clippings: If you apply organic lawn fertilizer, dry grass clippings are a great option. They mat together to protect plants and retain heat.

Straw: Straw makes great mulch for tomatoes. But stay away from hay, as it’s full of seeds. Spread a 3-6” layer around tomatoes.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Newspaper or Cardboard: Newspaper is best for blocking weeds. Cut or tear into strips that fit easily around plants.

Peat Moss: Peat moss slowly decomposes over the growing season, adding nutrients to the soil. Water plants thoroughly before spreading peat moss, however, because it sucks a lot of moisture from the soil.

If you’re looking for more information on tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

How to Create an Upside Down Tomato Planter

Laura from Garden Answer demonstrates how to make an upside down tomato planter. She uses Espoma’s new liquid fertilizer, Start!, to give plants the nutrients they need to grow.

Learn more about planting tomatoes in our organic guide.

Less is More: How to Successfully Prune Tomatoes

Tiny tomato seedlings can vigorously turn into huge bushes in no time. In fact, they’ve even been known to bend cages and pull stakes out of the ground!

However, when it comes to growing tomatoes, less is more. Fewer leaves mean air circulates better and leaves dry quicker, reducing the risk of disease.

Plants with less density direct energy toward producing bigger fruit. Plus, tomatoes often ripen earlier after a good pruning, allowing you to enjoy your harvest sooner.

Here are some helpful tips for pruning your tomatoes this season.

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Pruning 101

1. Find out if your tomato plant is a determinate or indeterminate variety. Determinate varieties often thrive with less attention because they only produce one crop of tomatoes. Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, require frequent maintenance because they produce tomatoes all season.

2. Pinch or snip flowers until plants are 12-18” tall. When the first green fruit appears, remove all suckers, ie leaves beneath that cluster.

3. Feed throughout the season with Tomato-tone.

4. As the plant continues to fruit and flower, chose a few strong stems to produce tomatoes and prune the rest. Though this results in less fruit, tomatoes will be bigger and juicier.

5. Continue removing unnecessary suckers and flowers at least once a week during peak growing season. Eliminate suckers while they are still small enough to remove by hand. If you need to use a tool, be sure to use a sharp pruner blade to make a clean cut.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Grow Up, Not Out

Tie tomato plants to a support such as a stake or a trellis to promote upward growth. This keeps tomatoes off the ground, keeping pests and diseases at bay. Vertically grown tomatoes are ultimately easier to prune because unnecessary suckers and leaves are more visible.

Though plants may now be better protected from insects and disease, staked and pruned plants may be more susceptible to blossom end rot and sunscald. Get a better harvest than you ever thought possible by giving tomatoes what they need!

Ready to learn more? Check out our guide to growing organic tomatoes for more information!

Simple Steps to Planting Tomatoes

Seeing red tomatoes peek through the green leaves in your garden is a true sign that summer is here. The first harvest of the season provides opportunities to finally try those delicious garden-to-table recipes.

Tomatoes are a staple in every organic garden. And growing them doesn’t have to be difficult.

Start planting today and you’ll have a delicious harvest in no time.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Start Growing

1. Choose a few of your favorite tomato varieties and get ready to plant!

2. Choose a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

3. Check the plant tag to see how far apart plants should be.

4. Dig holes larger than the tomatoes’ original container.

5. Set the plant in the hole so its lowest leaves are below the soil level. Go ahead and pinch those lower leaves off now.

6. Mix in an organic starter plant food, such as Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

7. Fill the hole with amended soil or Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil.

8. Once established, feed tomatoes by mixing in 3 tablespoons of Espoma’s Tomato-tone per plants. Organic Tomato-tone provides tomatoes the nutrients they need to grow big and plump. Since this is a slow-release, organic fertilizer, Tomato-tone never forces rapid growth, which reduces tomato yield.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Keys to Success

Stake tomatoes now to increase air circulation and sunlight exposure.

Support plants with a tomato cage, trellis or container. Stakes work, too. Hammer 6-8” stakes into the ground 3-6” away from the plant. When tomatoes begin blooming, tie them to the stake.

Water tomatoes generously for the first few days after planting. Then, give tomatoes 2” of water at their roots per week.

Feed tomatoes with organic Tomato-tone monthly for larger, plumper tomatoes all season.

Add 2-3” of mulch in 3-5 weeks to reduce water consumption.

If you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoeshybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Plant Tomato Seeds in 4 Easy Steps

Nothing beats that first bite into a delicious, ripe tomato – even better when it’s fresh out of your summer garden! Just talking about tomatoes has us craving homemade salsas, Caprese salads and a delicious medley of fresh summer veggies.

If you’re as excited about tomato season as we are, why not get started now?

In practically no time at all, you can start tomato seeds. The best way to get a head start on growing tomatoes is to start seeds indoors 4-6 weeks before the last spring frost date in your region.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Pick Your Plant

The first step to starting seeds is deciding which tomato is the one for you. With thousands of varieties, it can be hard to choose just one! This list of easy-to-grow tomatoes will make your decision simple and stress free.

Start Seeding

When starting seeds indoors, you only need three simple things: warmth, light and an organic plant food.

Fill seed trays to within ¼” of the top with Espoma’s Organic Seed Starting mix. Follow instructions on the seed packets to see how deep and far apart to plant. Cover with soil, press down and lightly water.

Place tray in a larger pan of shallow water for a minute so the water seeps up from the bottom.

Place seeds in a warm spot between 65-75°. Try the top of the fridge, or purchase a heat mat.

Loosely cover tray with plastic wrap or the cover from your seed-starting kit. Check seeds daily for moisture and water as needed.

Give seeds 12-16 hours of light daily. Supplement sunlight with grow lights if needed.

tomato-tone, growing tomatoes, organic gardening

Getting bigger

Once you see sprouts, remove the cover and move seeds to a sunny, south-facing window that is 65-75°F. Then, turn the container a little each day to prevent leaning seeds.

Add Espoma’s Organic Tomato-tone, a premium plant food formulated specifically for growing plump and juicy tomatoes, once seeds have sprouted. Tomato-tone’s organic composition feeds your plants naturally and will not force rapid growth at the expense of blooms and tomato yield.

Ready to Plant

Once the last frost date has passed, you’re almost ready to plant! Start by hardening off plants and placing seedlings outdoors for seven to 10 days for a few hours each day. Cut back on watering, as well. Now that plants are good and strong, it’s time to plant!  Gently remove plants from containers without damaging the roots. Plant in a prepared bed and mix in organic starter plant food, such as Bio-tone Starter Plus, to keep roots strong.

Now you’ll have delicious tomatoes in no time!

Go forth, and grow! When you’re organic gardening, be sure to feed tomatoes lots of Tomato-tone during the growing season.

And if you’re looking for more info on tomatoes, such as growing heirloom tomatoeshybrid tomatoes or non-red tomatoes, please visit our Organic Tomato Gardening Guide for more tips and tricks.

Total Guide to Growing Tomatoes

For good reason, tomatoes are the popular kid in the garden. Everyone wants to grow them, but not everyone knows how! So we have collected everything we know about tomatoes – from choosing which tomatoes to grow to how to harvest – and put it in one place!

Have success with Espoma’s Total Guide To Growing Tomatoes!

Five questions to ask before growing tomatoes

Best Tomato Varieties for Beginners

Should I grow heirlooms?

Hybrid tomatoes

Non-Red Tomatoes

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Starting tomatoes from seed

How to plant tomatoes

Ensuring soil health

Growing tomatoes in containers

Growing tomatoes upside down

Turn your tomato garden upside down

Growing tomatoes

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

How to fertilize tomatoes

3 Ways to Support Tomatoes

How to mulch tomato plants

What to know about pruning tomatoes

What are tomato plant suckers? 

How much water do tomatoes need?

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Blossom end rot

 

Tomato woes – How to solve common tomato diseases

Keep Tomatoes from Cracking and Splitting

Protect your plants – 4 common tomato pests

organic tomatoes

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Harvesting tomatoes made easy 

Step-by-step Instructions to Can, Save and Preserve Tomatoes

Saving tomato seeds 

Guide to Growing Organic Tomatoes

If there’s one vegetable that needs to be in your organic garden, it’s tomatoes! Juicy, red tomatoes are the taste of summer.

In a salad, drizzled with olive oil, sliced with fresh mozzarella or even eaten like an apple, homegrown tomatoes make every summer meal taste better.

Like all homegrown food, they’re picked when they’re the juiciest and most flavorful. And since you care for tomatoes all season, you appreciate theorganic tomato care and work it takes to ethically raise them. You know without an inkling of doubt that these tomatoes are organic, packed with nutrients and 100% free of harmful pesticides.

Plus when growing your own tomatoes, you get to pick exactly the kind you want! There are over 10,000 different types of tomatoes, in nearly every size and color.

To pick the tomatoes best for you, decide if you’d like to snack on tomatoes throughout summer. These are known as Indeterminate. Or if you’d like your crop to ripen at once at the end of summer, select determinate.

Also, think about how you’d like to use your tomatoes. Will you use them in lots of fresh recipes or can and preserve and save them for winter? See our favorite tomatoes below to pick the one right for you!

Best Tomatoes to Eat All Summer (Indeterminate)

  • Best Tomatoes for Sandwiches: Brandywine– The original scrumptious beefsteak, and all other beefsteaks
  • Best Tomatoes for Early Harvest: Early Girl– Bright red in color and flavor
  • Best Tomatoes for Sun-Drying: Any Cherry tomatoes

Best Tomatoes for Canning and Sauces (Determinate)

  • Best Tomatoes for Sauces – Full-flavored Roma
  • Best Tomatoes for Canning –Viva Italia which are virtually seedless
  • Best Overall Tomatoes: Rutgers– Abundant, uniform tomatoes that are perfectly tasty

tomato successPick one (or a couple) tomato varieties and get planting! Follow along below or check out how not to be a couch tomato with these tips.

Since tomatoes love the sun, they need a spot that gets at least 6 hours of sunlight a day.

Then, boost your soil. Mix in 3” of homemade compost or organic peat moss into the top 6” of your soil.

While you’re at it, mix in 9 cups of Espoma’s Tomato-tone per 50 square feet. For single plants, use 3 tablespoons of Tomato-tone per plant.

An organic plant food like Tomato-tone provides tomatoes the nutrients they need to grow big and plump. Since this is a slow-release, organic fertilizer, Tomato-tone never forces rapid growth, which reduces tomato yield.

Now dig a hole larger than the tomatoes’ original container. Look at the plant tag to see how far apart each tomato plant should be.

Situate the plant in the hole so its lowest leaves are below the soil level. Go ahead and pinch those lower leaves off.

Then fill the hole with amended soil or Espoma’s Organic Garden Soil.

To set your tomatoes up for success, stake them now to increase air circulation and sunlight exposure.

You can support them with a tomato cage, trellis or container. Or hammer 6-8” stakes 1’ into the ground about 3-6” away from the plant. When tomatoes begin blooming, tie them to the stake.

Right now though, all they need is some water! For the next few days, water tomatoes generously. Then, give tomatoes about 2” of water around their base each week.

In addition to watering, feed your tomatoes an organic tomato food each month. Organically fertilizing tomatoes with Tomato-tone produces larger, plumper tomatoes all season.

In 3-5 weeks, add 2-3” of mulch to reduce water consumption.

It won’t be long now until you’re biting into the first, fresh tomato of the season!

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