Last year, I thought I did everything right for my tomatoes in the vegetable garden. Wrong. Even though I was super attentive with watering and weeding, they quickly developed spots on their leaves, which then fell off, exposing the fruit to the harsh, scorching sun.

But now that I have completed the course work to become a University of Minnesota Extension Master Gardener Volunteer Intern, I'm armed with the tools I need to find research-based info about best horticultural practices for growing things. Of course, the more I learn, the more I realize just how much there is to learn and that I'm barely scratching the surface of what's out there. But, I'll share with you five tips that will help give your tomatoes a chance.

  1. Picking out your plant. When you buy tomato plants, make sure they are disease-resistant. It'll say so right on the little label. If there's no mention of disease resistance, that plant likely has none. Septoria leaf spot, early blight and late blight are three common diseases that can ravage your tomatoes. Believe me, I know. Make sure the stem and leaves look strong and healthy and there are no spots on the leaves.
  2. Where to plant. Don't plant them in a space where tomatoes (or tomatillos, potatoes or peppers) have grown for four years. You've got to rotate. Disease spores can live in the soil and infect plants year after year. Be sure to space them out, because diseases can flourish in high humidity, which rises when plants are too close together. The more ventilation, the better. Tomatoes need lots of sun. And they need a cage for support. Those tomatoes can be heavy and you want them up off the ground.
  3. Remove lower leaves. Some people cut off lower leaves, also to prevent disease.
  4. Mulch. Once your tomatoes are in place, cover the soil around the stem and beyond with mulch. It will help keep moisture in and it will help prevent any diseases in the soil from getting out and onto your plant.
  5. Watering. Tomatoes need constant moisture. They don't like huge fluctuations. Avoid watering from overhead, as this can increase chances of disease. Instead, water from below. Soak slowly and don't splash. Even though mulch is there to keep spores or bacteria from splashing up, nothing is fool proof in the garden.

Good luck with your tomatoes! I will keep you posted on how mine are doing throughout the season.

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