There is something irresistible and appealing about red, fresh, home-grown, tasty, and juicy tomatoes. If you are thinking of having your little tomato garden or you just love to grow your vegetables, then you need to put all of the essential elements in place to get the best tomato fruits; and it all starts with getting the best soil for tomatoes.
To have the best tomato plants, you need the best soil and a healthy plant (the source of seeds). Besides those, you will also need to have space, sunshine, tools as well as fertilizers.
The soil can be regarded as the most important factor and element in the growing of tomatoes. It provides plants with nutrients needed for growth and supports them.
Soil Type and Texture
The soil type and texture are the most important factors to consider in choosing the best soil for tomatoes. Tomatoes feed heavily on nutrients in the soil, so the soil must be nutrient-rich. This doesn’t mean that they do not have their preferences and the right type of soil means a bountiful produce harvest.
They can grow and flourish in either loamy, sandy, clay, or silty soil. These soil types vary in texture, water-retaining capacity, particle size, and nutrient composition. Therefore, they vary in their suitability for plants, depending on the needs of the plant. This is why you must choose the best soil for your tomatoes. The best soil for growing tomatoes is loam soil or sandy soil that is rich in organic matter.
Tomatoes thrive well in fairly loose soil that is well-drained. If the soil is too dry or waterlogged, the growth of the plants will be inhibited or they may drown. The soil needs to be of a sandy loam texture to moderately retain and drain water needed for the tomatoes to grow and produce healthy, tasty, and juicy tomatoes. The drainage capacity of the soil can be improved by adding organic matter. Watering also needs to be done moderately and consistently. Not watering the plants regularly can cause diseases like Blossom End Rot and stress the plants.
The other important metric that affects the growth and health of your tomatoes is the soil pH because it determines the number of nutrients that will be made available to the tomatoes. Tomatoes are heavy feeders and therefore, require lots of nutrients to survive and grow. The pH also determines the rate at which the tomatoes will be able to absorb nutrients needed to thrive.
The ideal pH of soil used to grow tomatoes is between the near-neutral or slightly acidic pH of 6.0 to 6.8. Tomatoes can also do well in soils with pH levels ranging from 5.5 to 7.5. You don’t have to worry if the pH of the intended soil is not in the optimal range; it can be easily modified. To check the pH level of the soil, you can use a pH meter or a soil test kit. To raise the pH if it falls on the acidic side of the meter, add agricultural lime or dolomite lime into the soil before planting. Elemental sulfur or fertilizers that contain ammonium sulfate should be added to the soil if the pH level is on the alkaline side of the meter.
When modifying the pH whether lowering or raising it, ensure that you mix the substance well with the soil. Afterward, moisten the soil with distilled water and let it sit for about 5 minutes to soak it in before planting your tomatoes.
You need moderately fertile soil with lots of organic matter to have quality tomato plants. The fertility of the soil can also be measured using a soil test kit which is available at most garden stores. If it is not fertile enough, it can be amended by using an all-purpose fertilizer that has higher phosphorus content and potassium content. Nitrogen is needed but not in a high quantity. High-nitrogen content fertilizers should be avoided because they have negative effects on the quality and quantity of your plants and subsequently, the fruits. Fertilizers should first be added at planting time, then three weeks later and in small doses once every week subsequently.
To improve the soil’s fertility, you can add compost to the soil. Tomatoes can be grown in compost in place of soil but this is not necessary because you can get similar results using a little amount of compost. As an alternative to making your compost, you can buy the premixes at your local store. Make sure it has all the necessary materials and nutrients and it is up to standard. Your soil also needs to contain minerals. You should add perlite and/or peat moss to your soil; the former prevents the soil from compacting over time while the latter helps the soil to retain water for a longer period.
To improve the organic matter content of the soil, there is no standard recipe. You can try out different things besides fertilizers and compost as long as they are not detrimental to the growth of tomatoes. Some of them include; eggshell (crushed) which improves the calcium content and prevents rot; a bone meal that promotes strong root growth; Epsom salt which keeps the foliage green and increases yield; banana leaves which are rich sources of phosphorus and potassium and tea leaves. However, you must ensure that you add the right quantity in the right form when amending the soil.
Growing Tomatoes In Containers
Growing your tomatoes in containers or pots is great as it allows you some level of control over the growth and yield of your tomato plants. For tomatoes grown in containers, the ideal soil is loose, well-aerated, and well-drained but moisture-retaining soil that is also packed full of organic matter, nutrients, as well as high content of phosphorus and potassium and a pH level between 6 – 6.8.
Your container should be wide enough to accommodate the outgrowth of the tomato fruits because they tend to grow out rather than downwards. The ideal depth for growing tomatoes in containers is 8-12 inches.
The container should also be big so that it can hold sufficient soil and also, more plants. This will also prevent overcrowding as it is often common in tomatoes grown in containers.
Making Your Own Soil Mix or Buying Pre-Made Potting Mixes?
Making your soil mix may be the easier and cheapest way but it is not without consequences. This is because, you will need the topmost soil from your backyard or garden soil and it may contain weed seeds, pests, larval eggs, fungi, and diseases which will inhibit the growth of your tomatoes and may even cause the plants to die without yielding any fruits.
If you can’t trust the hygiene of your backyard soil or garden soil, or you don’t have other necessary ingredients needed to make your soil mix, then it might be best to buy a quality ready-made potting mix for your tomatoes. They work just fine for tomatoes grown in containers or pots. There is a wide variety of quality potting mixes to select from.
Pre-Made Potting Mixes
Your typical soil mix for tomatoes should contain coco peat, peat moss, or perlite but it can be difficult making it on your own. Pre-made potting mixes or potting soils are safe and effective alternatives to making your soil mix. Here are some of the top pre-made potting mixes/ potting soils you can select from for your tomatoes;
1. Miracle-Gro Potting Mix: It is an easy-to-use lightweight potting mix that grows your plants twice as big. It is ideal for tomatoes grown in containers. It contains peat moss which improves its drainage ability. It can last up to 6 months.
2. Miracle-Gro All-purpose Garden Soil: If there’s one for containers, you can bet that there’s another for in-ground purposes. Although not organic, it contains all the agents needed to have healthy tomatoes as well as three important nutrients; phosphate, potash, and nitrogen.
3. Foxfarm Ocean and Garden Potting Soil: This potting mix is organic and will take care of your tomatoes’ needs. It contains organic compounds from both land and oceans. It also contains bat guano; triple-action manure that holds enough nutrients for your tomatoes, increases the microbial activity of the soil, and improves the quality of the soil.
4. Black Gold Organic Potting Soil: Here is one that works well for both tomatoes grown in containers and the ground. It is organic and rich in compost, fertile, amongst others. You won’t have to water as often with this potting mix, which takes care of the inconsistent watering problem that’s common with tomatoes.
5. Miracle-Gro Expand ‘n’ Gro Concentrated Planting Mix: Miracle-Gro saves the day again with yet another mix for your tomatoes. Like the preceding potting mixes from the brand, it takes care of your tomatoes. It contains coir pith; a coconut derivative that amends the soil in terms of porosity and weight.
6. Espoma Organic Soil Mix: It is organic and contains sphagnum peat moss and perlite. The peat moss improves the absorbency rate and perlite improves the aeration, drainage, and structure of the soil. It also contains limestone to modify the pH of the soil. Whilst it is formulated for tomatoes grown in containers, you can also use it for in-ground purposes.
7. Burpee Natural Organic Premium Growing Mix: This potting mix also contains coir from coconut and serves as a well-balanced fertilizer for your tomatoes. It is rich in organic compounds and can last up to 3 months.
You don’t need to be a professional gardener or an expert when it comes to growing tomatoes as long as you start with the right soil and a healthy plant. So, the quality of your tomatoes all depends on starting well. This can be accomplished by ensuring that you create the best soil mix for your tomatoes or buy pre-made potting mixes.
However, getting the best soil is only the first step in growing quality and healthy tomatoes. Other factors such as space, sunlight, and disease prevention should also be addressed.
With the best soil, comes the best tomatoes.