Nothing says the height of the growing season quite like the scent of tomatoes ripening on the vine or sliced on the kitchen counter, ready for a juicy burger or crisp salad.
Luckily, they are pretty easy to grow, and even a novice gardener can produce a bumper crop in their first year.
That isn’t to say there aren’t a multitude of enemies that can decimate a harvest, maybe even before the first flower!
You can improve your chances of avoiding these foes by including companion plants from the outset.
These are plants that will not only deter pests and disease but also improve tomato health and flavor.
Proper planting and companion pairing can increase your chances of a successful growing season.
You will also have plenty of fruit to satisfy everyone in the house. And, depending on how much you plant, lots left over for that homemade salsa everyone loves.
Good Tomato Companion Plants
Companion planting tomatoes is a must when striving for a good harvest and pest-free garden. Here’s a small list of companion herbs, vegetables, and flowers for tomato plants:
- Amaranth (repels insects)
- Asparagus (kills nematodes)
- Basil (repels many insects/diseases and attracts bees)
- Borage (repels worms and hornworms)
- Carrots (aerates soil)
- Chives (repels aphids)
- Dill (early only) – (improves flavor)
- Garlic (repels spider mites)
- Lemon Balm
- Marigold (repels many insects)
- Mint (improves flavor)
- Parsley (improves flavor)
- Stinging Nettle
- Sow Thistle (helps growth)
- Squash (good ground cover)
What Should Not Be Planted With Tomatoes?
Just as how there are good companions for tomatoes, some can be bad.
While some might only stunt plant growth, some increase chances of blight, so it’s wise to keep certain plants well away. These are some bad selections to pair with tomato:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Black Walnut Trees
- Butternut Trees
How to Grow Tomatoes
When you plant your tomatoes and in what form will depend on where you live.
Warmer climates have a longer growing season, so they can be grown from homegrown seedlings and then transplanted after the danger of frost is passed.
Growing in more northern climates often means buying seedlings to transplant.
Tomato plants need full sun in cooler climates and afternoon shade in warmer areas. They also need well-drained soil.
Make sure the area you’ve selected has room for all your tomato plants (spaced 2-3 feet apart) as well as their companions.
Once you’ve found a suitable spot, pretreat the soil with compost or aged manure several weeks before planting.
Plant seedlings deep, up to or beyond their first leaves. If needed, plants can be laid on their side and gently bent upright, then covered with soil.
Set cages or stakes – adding them later could damage the roots. Water plants well right away to help the roots adjust to their new home.
Care and Maintenance
The plants need a lot of water all season long.
Try to water in the morning so your plant can survive hot days but doesn’t go into the evening with excessive moisture, as this can cause mold and disease.
After five weeks in their new home, add some mulch to your plants to help them stay moist, and minimize weeds.
You can use compost of grass clippings, straw, peat moss, dried leaves, etc.
Make sure they have the support they need by using string to tie them to their stakes or even cages.
Trim the bottommost leaves. Too close of contact to the ground increases the risk of disease either by contact or splash from watering.
Pests and Diseases
Protecting your tomato plants from unwanted garden pests and crop-killing diseases means keeping a close eye on them.
Check them constantly for signs of infestation, but keep in mind that not all insects are bad. Some insects, like ladybugs and hoverflies, you want to have because they feed on the harmful ones.
Don’t panic if you see a few of these. If you see a leaf with an abundance of pests, don’t be afraid to pluck it off and throw it away – in the trash, not on the ground.
If the bugs get out of control, consider using some organic insecticidal soap or other natural pest control methods.
Diseases are a little harder to deal with, and there are so many of them you’d be pressed to learn half the names. Blight (fungi – early and late), mold from too much moisture are more common problems.
Signs of fungi and mold are wilting leaves and visible white mold on the soil.
An organic fungicide can help control the problem, but it’s easier to stop pests and diseases before they ever have a chance to take hold. This is where good neighbors for tomatoes are most useful.
When harvest time arrives, don’t pick them too soon. They will ripen much better on the vine than they would inside.
Pick only red, firm tomatoes. Don’t store them in the refrigerator as this will make them lose their perfect flavor and texture.
If your growing season ends before they ripen, pull the entire plant out of the ground with the fruit attached and hang somewhere cool indoors.
Where to Buy Seeds
When it’s time to go from planning your garden to starting your tomato plants, you’ll want to find quality seeds.
Many online retailers offer convenience and shipping speeds that eliminate the need to leave home.
Planning for potential tomato growing problems before you plant will increase your chances of success. Start with healthy, prepared soil – even for seedlings.
Don’t plant seedlings if they aren’t strong. Find a sunny, well-drained area in your garden where your plants will thrive.
Once in the ground, water consistently and mulch to keep plants healthy. Plant helpful neighbors around your tomatoes to keep them strong.
Watch for signs of pests and disease. Be proactive if you see trouble. And enjoy all the fragrant and tasty fruits of your labor.