By Jolie Donohue
Spring has sprung full force in Portland. In May we are itching to fill up the edible garden for our summer harvest. Tomatoes are a favorite of gardeners everywhere. One of my all time favorite garden quotes comes from public radio show host Mike McGrath “Everybody wants to grow tomatoes. Tomatoes are the gate way drug to all of gardening.”
Lest we get too eager to start planting tomatoes, here are some tips for successful growing in Portland:
- Tomatoes like warm weather. They need consistent minimal night temperatures of 55 degrees. In Portland this is typically between May 15-June 1. Planting your tomatoes too early will result in stunted or dead plants.
- Tomatoes like warm soil. They need consistent soil temperatures of 60 degrees. • Plant your tomatoes into the garden by transplants/start s. Portland does not have a long enough or hot enough summer to facilitate direct seeding tomatoes. If you want to start tomatoes by seed start seeds indoors in mid-February.
- Tomatoes need a full sun location, ideally south facing, where they receive 8-10 hours a day of sun. They will not set fruit in shady areas.
- Tomatoes are “heavy feeders ” and appreciate being planted with an organic granular fertilizer, which will slow release to your plants through out the season.
- Tomatoes are prone to blossom end rot. To prevent the disease blossom end rot, add a calcium source into the planting hole, such as a spoonful each of rock phosphate or bone meal and lime.
- Tomatoes have very long root systems (3-4 feet) and they ne ed plenty of room to grow. Make sure your planting bed is deep enough for the tomato’s roots.
- Tomatoes are big plants and need proper spacing to thrive. Give the plants plenty of space between each other, at least 4 feet wide per plant.
- Tomatoes need support. They have dense branches laden wit h heavy fruit. Install a tomato cage or other support system at planting time to preven t later damage to your plant.
- Tomatoes don’t need a lot of water. Be consistent with a deep watering a few times per week throughout the growing season. Inconsistent watering c ontributes to fruit splitting and blossom end rot.
- Tomato plants take several months to produce in Portland. Expect your harvest to begin in late August and end in October when cold temperatures ha ve set in.
- Rotate your crops. Do not grow your tomatoes in the same place every year. This will create disease and pest problems. Use a 4-year rotation for all edible crops.
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