Soil Preparation for Growing Tomato Plants

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It is important to prepare soil for growing tomato plants in order to provide the best possible environment for a good crop of tomatoes. The soil must have the proper range for its pH level, sufficient nutrients for the tomato plants to thrive on, and a soil composition that holds water long enough for the tomato plants to absorb it. If the soil that you intend to use does not offer these qualities, then adjustments need to be made.

It is best to prepare or cultivate the soil prior to the beginning of the planting season. This is especially true if you are aware that you are going to need to compensate for the existing condition of the soil. The only soil condition that does not need cultivating it is one that has the proper pH range and is rich in organic matter providing nutrients and the ability to both retain and drain water.

Tilling the Soil for Growing Tomato Plants

Tilling, or turning the soil over and digging deeply, has become less popular over the years as gardeners have come to understand the benefits of earthworms and other beneficial organisms. However, certain types of soil require a great deal of tilling that also needs additional types of gardening matter including compost, coconut fiber, or peat moss.

New gardeners or those who are planting in a fresh plot of ground should till the soil well in advance of the planting season. This strategy gives you time to assess the nature of the soil and to make any necessary adjustments to the pH level or the composition of the soil. It also allows the added components time to fully become part of the soil.

Additionally, all avid gardeners should till plots of ground that have received consistent use each season without the addition of new organic matter or nutrients. Tired plots do not produce as well as fresh ones since all of the nutrients have been spent. Tilling the soil prior to the planting season provides a refreshment to the soil with fresh nutrients and organic matter that rejuvenate the soil, producing a better crop of tomatoes.

Gardeners should always till the soil if it has a great deal of clay. This type of soil is heavy and should be broken up with the addition of other organic materials during tilling. Clay, by itself, holds too much water and often does not have the proper nutrients in it to produce an optimal crop of tomatoes.

Sandy soil should also be tilled prior to planting your tomato plants in it. This type of soil does not retain water and should have several other substances added to it in order to create an optimal growing environment. Compost is one of the best soil amendments. Not only does compost have organic matter to retain water, but compost is rich in nutrients, too. Amendments rich in nutrients directly benefit sandy soil since water drains quickly through sandy soil taking nutrients along with it.

Adding Nutrients to the Soil for Growing Tomato Plants

Adding nutrients to the soil is essential if you want to give your crop of tomatoes the best possible growing environment. Adding compost is an excellent method to use to add essential nutrients to your soil. It is rich in the nutrients that encourage growth while also providing micro-organisms that are beneficial to plant growth and health. Adding compost also improves the consistency of the soil, making it easier for the soil to retain water as well as making it easier for the soil to drain excessive water.

It is important to thoroughly read the label that identifies the components of any organic matter that you buy for your garden plot in order to assess its value. For example, while peat moss offers organic matter and can be used to improve the soil’s ability to retain or drain water, it does not offer many essential nutrients unless they have been specifically added to the peat moss. Make sure that you are purchasing what it is that your garden plot needs.

It is also important to understand that compost must be sufficiently aged in order for your tomato plants to be able to absorb its nutrients. Compost containing grass clippings, leaves, kitchen scraps, and other organic materials must be broken down before your tomato plants can absorb nutrients from the mix. Freshly created compost is never ready for use in the garden. It should be aged for a minimum of six months to a year, depending on your composting method. Tumbling composters can produce finished compost much faster.

Manure contains nutrients that can be of value to tomato plants. However, the manure must be aged for approximately one year before it can offer nutritional benefits to your plants safely without exposing them to harm.

In general, any of the three nutrients can prove to be beneficial to your garden plants: bone meal, blood meal, and greensand. Bone meal provides phosphorus. Blood meal offers nitrogen. Greensand provides potassium.

Preparing Problem Soils for Growing Tomato Plants

Too Acidic Soil (Low pH)

Tomatoes grow best in soil that has a pH range between 6.5 and 7.0. Soil that is too acidic for tomatoes has a low pH that is under 6. It is possible to modify the pH simply by adding a substance with a high-alkaline nature. Adding lime is an excellent strategy for compensating for low acidity as is adding wood ash to the soil. However, lime should be added to the soil a full six months prior to planting for the best results.

Too Alkaline Soil (High pH)

Soil that has a pH higher than 7.0 is too alkaline for growing tomatoes. Alkaline soil lacks organic matter. Therefore, you can remedy the problem of soil with a high pH by adding any of several different organic matter products. In particular, adding peat moss combines organic matter with the soil that you currently have. Several products are available that not only add organic matter, but they also add specific plant nutrients. Elemental sulfur adds essential plant nutrients and comes in an easy-to-add pea pellet form.

Too Sandy Soil

Since sandy soil drains water quickly, it is necessary to change the consistency of it when growing tomatoes in it. Adding organic matter does the trick since it holds water. Both peat moss and coconut fiber are excellent options for correcting sandy soil so that it offers a better growing environment for your tomato plants.

Coconut fiber is produced by carefully taking the course fibers from the exterior of coconuts. It is sold in most nurseries including online versions. Peat moss, which acts like a large sponge due to its extremely high absorbing powers, is taken from marshes.

One other option gardeners have is to add in a quantity of compost to add water-retaining materials to the sandy soil. Compost also provides a number of nutrients that can add to the healthy growth of your tomato plants.

Too Much Clay in Soil

Attempting to plant tomatoes in soil with a high consistency of clay is problematic for two reasons. First, the clay resists the absorption of water, allowing water runoff to occur and preventing your plants from getting sufficient moisture through light rain spells or short watering efforts on the part of the gardener. Second, once the clay soil does absorb the water after sufficiently long watering spells, it retains it with tenacity.

Typically, clay soil does not contain much organic matter. Therefore, adding organic matter to the clay adds in its ability to absorb and release water. Adding compost is the best option for remedying this situation. For soil that has an extremely high clay composition, it is also going to be necessary to add sand to it in order to provide the necessary composition for absorbing water.

Next, adding peat moss or coconut fiber also goes a long way to correcting the problem of having soil with too much clay in it. Check the pH of the soil first. If it has a high acidic nature, add the coconut fiber rather than the peat moss as coconut fiber has a high pH and so it can also be used to adjust the pH to the proper level for growing tomatoes.

Keep these few steps in mind when it comes to preparing your garden soil for growing tomatoes:

In general, the preparation of your garden soil should be undertake approximately six months prior to actually planting your tomato plants. The pH level should be adjusted to a neutral range of 6.5 and 7.0. Compost, peat moss, and other organic materials should be added to improve the condition of the soil while creating an optimal growing environment for your tomato plants.

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{ 1 comment… read it below or add one }

gerald December 26, 2011 at 11:25 am

This told me absolutely (well, that’s an exageration) nothing on what I need to do or buy. How do I know if my ph levels are off? Or what should I buy to prepare the soil? Or what’s compost. I live in LA…, gotta tell ya, there’s not much farm land around here, this much of this is new to me. And I”m not starting to grow tomatoes due to the economy, I got a taste of wome home grown tomatoes last year and I was blown away by the taste and how juicy they were. So these may be stupid questions to some people across the country, but to me, I’m stumped. But I’m doing my research and hopefully, I figure it out.

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