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Tips for growing tomatoes, whether youre a seasoned gardener or not
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Homegrown vegetables are a staple for many Southerners during the summertime.

The one vegetable — well technically a fruit — everyone savors with anticipation is the tomato. The folks I know always say the first tomato of the season is the best.

It is a fact homegrown tomatoes are much better than anything you can buy at the grocery store. Nothing can beat it. Whether or not you are trying to grow tomatoes for the first time, or 30th season, here are some tips to follow to ensure your harvest is plentiful.

If you have not planted your tomatoes, it is not too late. By waiting until now, you missed a damaging frost and the cool nights of April, which would have made you start all over again.

But before you plant, incorporate 4 inches of new organic matter. This will encourage the plants to explore and become established quickly.

When you plant your tomatoes remove the leaves from the bottom and bury it deep in the ground, about two-thirds of the stem. Planting deep allows the plant to grow roots up and down the stem in the ground. The extra root system will make the plant stronger and more stable as it matures.

If you read my column regularly, you know I always talk about using mulch when planting. Well, the same goes for veggies.

A good 2- to 3-inch layer of wheat straw will go a long way to deter back weeds, keep the plants clean from rainfall and maintain moist soil in the summer.

Speaking of rain and moisture, many problems arise from improper watering. Water your plants so the soil stays evenly moist.

When you water plants, keep the water at the base. Wetting the leaves only encourages diseases.

Fertilize your tomatoes when first planted. After that, they do not need much until the first tomatoes are the size of a dime.

Pushing growth on your tomatoes will only encourage them to grow leaves and stems, but not fruit.

If you have future problems, come by the office and see if we can give you a hand at identifying the pest or disease properly.

Michael Wheeler is county extension coordinator for the UGA Cooperative Extension office in Hall County. You can contact him at 770-535-8293, www.hallcounty.org/extension. His column appears weekly and on gainesvilletimes.com/life.

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