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Waiting is over; plant your tomatoes now

April 28 is Sacramento's unofficial tomato planting day. Planted now, seedlings should start bearing fruit around July Fourth.
April 28 is Sacramento's unofficial tomato planting day. Planted now, seedlings should start bearing fruit around July Fourth. Bee file photo

Happy tomato planting day! Fans of radio host Farmer Fred Hoffman, whose birthday is April 28, are very familiar with Sacramento's unofficial holiday dedicated to its favorite crop. Besides, this is a perfect day to transplant seedlings outdoors. Planted now, they'll start producing around Fourth of July.

The key to a bountiful tomato crop starts with proper planting. That means deep.

Tomato vines can grow new roots along their stems. Deep healthy roots will help those vines survive a long, dry summer while also prompting a bigger harvest. So, plant seedlings deep, clipping off the lower leaves and leaving only the top leaves and little branches above soil.

Make sure the soil has the nutrients those seedlings will need. Add a few shovels of well-aged compost and a sprinkling of bone meal to the planting holes before placing plants.

Proper watering is important, too. Tomatoes need consistent irrigation to keep them growing and producing. Young plants require about 2 gallons of water per plant a week; increase that amount as the plant grows, divided between two or three irrigations a week. Tomatoes grown in containers benefit from a drip system to keep their soil evenly hydrated.

Remember to mulch; it helps keep moisture in the soil and tomato roots comfortable. If growing your vines in containers, line the inside of the pots with several layers of newspaper. That paper lining retains moisture while insulating roots.

Other garden tasks this week:

  • Start setting out other warm-weather crops such as eggplants and peppers.
  • Now is prime time for planting summer vegetable seeds, too, including: beans, carrots, chard, corn, cucumbers, okra, pumpkins, squash and watermelon.
  • Plant seeds (or transplants) for such flowers as alyssum, aster, celosia, cosmos, four o'clocks, marigold, sunflower, verbena and zinnia.
  • Watch out for snails and slugs; they can destroy your seedlings overnight.
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