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, tomatoes 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 tomato companion plants from the outset.
These are plants that will not only deter pests and disease but also improve tomato health and flavor.
Proper tomato 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.
When you plant your tomatoes and in what form will depend on where you live.
Warmer climates have a longer growing season, so tomatoes 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 your tomato companion plants.
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 when planting – adding them later could damage the plant’s roots. Water plants well right away to help the roots adjust to their new home.
Care and Maintenance
Tomato 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 your plants 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 bad insects.
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.
Disease is 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 tomato companion plants are most useful.
Good Companion Plants for Tomatoes
Here’s a short list of companion tomato plants and some of the benefits they provide:
- Amaranth (repels insects)
- Asparagus (kills nematodes)
- Basil (repels many insects/diseases and attracts bees)
- Borage (repels tomato worms and hornworms)
- Carrots (aerates soil around tomatoes)
- 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)
Bad Companion Plants for Tomatoes
Just as some plants are beneficial to tomatoes, some can be harmful.
While some might only stunt a tomato plant’s growth, some increase chances of blight, so it’s wise to keep these plants well away:
- Brussels Sprouts
- Black Walnut Trees
- Butternut Trees
Where to Buy Seeds
When it’s time to go from planning your garden to actually 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.
When harvest time arrives, don’t pick your tomatoes 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 your tomatoes ripen, pull the entire plant out of the ground with the fruit attached and hang somewhere cool indoors.
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 tomatoes will thrive.
Once in the ground, water the plants consistently and mulch to keep them 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.