Plant Care Tips
Develop Good Plant Relationships
Did you know that vegetables react a lot like people? They get along with some plants better than others. With a technique called inter-planting, gardeners with limited space can take advantage of good relationships among certain vegetables, and reap an even greater harvest of both than by planting in separate rows. One of the most famous sets of “veggie neighbors” that help each other grow are carrots and onions. These root crops get along extremely well together for a couple of reasons: they repel each other’s pests. Larvae of the carrot fly are fooled by the onions’ scent, and onion flies don’t like the carrots’ scent. Carrots and onions also grow well together because of their differing root growth depths. Carrots feed down deep, while onions feed near the surface, so there are nutrients for everyone.
Another well-known group of plant partners is corn, squash and pole beans. A standard planting technique among the Iroquois Native American tribes, corn, pole beans and squash can all three grow in one planting area. In this particular case, the beans actually help create a usable form of nitrogen for the corn. The corn plants create a natural trellis for the beans plus a windbreak for the squash. And squash or pumpkins, with low, spreading vines and leaves, provide a shade for the soil and thus keep in moisture and discourage weeds from sprouting.
A third popular inter-planting couple is tomato plants and basil. There’s really no scientific reason for their synergy, but planted together both type of plants seem to grow better with better tasting fruits and leaves than alone. Again, the basil helps the tomato plants by shading the soil and keeping weed growth low, but other than that the two species just seem to enjoy each other’s company.
There are many more inter-planting companion plant partners known, some with scientifically explained logic behind them, some just folklore. Check out your favorite search engine for “companion plants vegetables” for more information, or browse through a comprehensive vegetable gardening book to see which “companions” are just right for your veggies.
Tomatoes don’t require a lot of maintenance, but a bountiful harvest will require some intervention on your part.
For indeterminate varieties (those that continue to produce new fruit throughout the season), use stakes, trellises or tomato cages to keep the plants from sprawling on the ground. Tie the plant to its support as it grows, positioning the tie between each leaf cluster. Don’t tie too tightly, and use a wide, stretchy fabric like a cloth strip or old nylon, rather than a thin string, which could damage the plant. To concentrate growth in bigger, healthier tomatoes, pinch the suckers that develop in the leaf axils (at the stem above where another leaf emerges), particularly in the first two feet of growth. Also, thinning out some of the blossoms will result in earlier, bigger tomato production. You also may wish to pinch the top of the plant after 4-5 flower bunches have formed.
Determinate plants (those that produce a single crop over a period of several weeks) won’t need as much assistance, but will probably benefit from a tomato cage or other structure to keep them upright. These procedures allow more sun and air to get to foliage and flowers, and prevent rot and bug damage caused by fruit in contact with the ground.
Most caregivers of houseplants follow a watering routine that allows the soil to dry slightly between drinks. With tomatoes, alternate periods of wet and dry will result in cracked, split skins. For best results, water regularly, keeping soil evenly moist but not saturated. Watering at ground level rather than overhead will eliminate many disease problems. Tomatoes need about 1-1 and 1/2″ of water each week.