Get those tomatoes in the ground

The Island Garden

Bottom-end rot can plague tomatoes when a lack of water reaches the fruit as it’s growing. It usually only occurs with the first fruits of the plant.

Bottom-end rot can plague tomatoes when a lack of water reaches the fruit as it’s growing. It usually only occurs with the first fruits of the plant.

It is unlikely we will see frost again until fall, so it is time to plant tomatoes, peppers, eggplants and other outdoor vegetables.

You might want to check the temperature of the soil before planting. I look for soil temperatures to be at least 50 degrees. Air temperature should be about 55 degrees at night for most vegetables. When temperatures get above 80 degrees, tomatoes will flower, but often will not set fruit. Tomatoes, eggplants and peppers all prefer a warm spot out of the wind. Around here we get cold winds off the ocean, which tends to slow the growth of these heat-loving plants.

If you have tomato plants ready to be set out, your first job is to dig a hole. The hole should be in an area where plants of the nightshade family (tomatoes, eggplants, potatoes) have not grown before. If you plant them in soil that previously has grown tomatoes, you run the risk of diseases left over from earlier plants.

Similarly, you should get rid of any leftover stalks and pieces of stalk from last year’s plants. These can also allow insects to transfer and can transmit disease to your new plants.



Tomatoes are one of the few plants that can, and should, be planted deeper than the soil line on the plant. If you plant them up to the first set of leaves, all of the buried stem will turn into roots, giving you a stronger and larger plant. Check your plants to see if they have been fertilized with a granular fertilizer by the grower. If you see signs of granular fertilizer, you do not need to add more in the hole. If you see no sign of additional fertilizer, I like to dig a good size hole and toss a teaspoon of fertilizer (10-10-10) into the hole. The fertilizer is then dug in well at the bottom of the hole and watered. This gets the soil moist before adding plants.

Now add the plants and backfill the hole, burying the stem up to first set of leaves. Mark the height of your plants. When you see signs that the plant has grown a few inches, fertilize it again with 5-10-5 or 5-10-10. The last two numbers are phosphate and potassium. The first number is nitrogen, which helps leaf growth on your plants. You do not want to encourage lots of green growth on tomatoes, peppers or eggplants. You want flower and fruit growth. The latter two numbers encourage flowering and fruiting. Fertilize monthly with 5-10-10 to encourage more flowers and fruit.

When you see flowers, they need to be pollinated. For tomatoes, you can use a paint brush and dab pollen from one flower to another or you can gently squeeze the flower with your fingers moving from flower to flower. If you leave the plants alone, wind and insects do the pollination for you, but you can increase yields by painting or pinching.

Keep your plants moist. When your tomatoes set fruit, you may see some blackening and rot at the bottom of the first few fruits. This is called blossom-end rot. It is caused by lack of water when the plant was growing. Usually, it only occurs with the first few tomatoes. Toss them and wait for more fruit.

Eggplants and peppers are not planted deeper than the depth in the pot, but they can be fertilized at the same time as tomatoes with the same fertilizer. Again, keep the ground around your plants moist. During summer when drought hits, you might want to lay some form of mulch around your plants to help keep the soil moist. The forecast is for an El Nino event this summer and fall, so things might be a little drier than usual.