Every year, I have to make sure that I make lots of room for growing tomatoes in my gardens. I love to plant a variety, from the little cherry tomatoes that you can pop in your mouth like candy, to those big juicy ones that you can slice for summer burgers. Despite tomatoes being among my favourite crops, that late-summer garden fatigue can make me lazy.
Last year I let a few of my plants get a bit too wild, and ultimately, it affected the fruit. Here are a few tips that I recommend following as you plant your seedlings and throughout the growing season.
Tips for growing tomatoes in raised beds
1. Stake them early and carefully
Depending on how high your raised beds are, the subsoil underneath may not be very forgiving. I’ve bent many a tomato cage by carelessly trying to shove them in the soil around a new plant. Instead, carefully press each “leg” of the cage into the soil, one at a time, until you work the whole thing in deep enough. And speaking of new plants, your seedlings may be so small that it seems silly to put a cage around them right away. It’s best not to wait. Once the plants start to grow, you risk inadvertently snapping off a limb or damaging the plant.
2. Never water from above
As packed full of plants as your raised beds may be, avoid taking the garden hose and simply spraying everything, hoping the roots get wet. It may be time-consuming, but it’s worth watering at the base of each plant to avoid splashing the leaves (which could spread soil-borne diseases) and to make sure each plant gets a good drink. To save time and water, consider installing an irrigation system that will deliver water directly to the base of your plants.
3. Pinch, pinch, pinch!
Get rid of those suckers (the new growth that comes up between a stem and a branch) as soon as possible. Simply pinch them out with your fingers. You don’t want to have to cut off an unruly branch later on. It also helps the plant focus more on the fruit.
Related link: Tomatoes not turning red? Try these 5 tips
4. Rotate your tomato crops
Raised beds make crop rotation easy because you can keep track of where everything is from year to year. It’s a good idea to rotate where you plant things every two to three years for a couple of reasons. The first is because different plants take up different nutrients from the soil. Also, some pests and diseases can overwinter in the soil. For example, Colorado potato beetles, which enjoy the foliage of nightshade veggies, like to linger around until spring and lie in wait for your tender new plants.
It’s also a good idea to move the entire plant family, so if it’s time to move your tomatoes to a new garden, it’s a good idea to avoid planting other nightshade veggies in the same place.
5. Tidy up at the end of the season
When you’re pulling out spent plants in the fall, be sure to toss any unripe or already-rotten tomatoes in the compost, instead of letting them decompose in the garden. You may find yourself pulling up wee tomato seedlings in the spring!
Find more tips for growing edibles in raised beds in my new book, Raised Bed Revolution.