5. Add mulch (or don’t).
Again, this is a matter of personal preference. I like to lay down wet newspaper and cover with straw after the tomato plants are well established. If it’s a cold year and I want extra heat, I’ll put down black landscape fabric over this. I get cleaner tomatoes, more even soil temperature and moisture, and very few weeds. My friends who skip tomato supports often skip mulching, too. Some folks use black or red plastic mulch.
6. Make sure they get enough water.
Tomatoes need about an inch of rain or equivalent per week. Lack of water, too much water or irregular watering can cause blossom end rot (black rot starting at the blossom end of the tomato) and cracking. If this happens in your garden, don’t freak out. It’s not contagious. Just remove the damaged fruit and pay more attention to watering.
7. Keep weeds from going crazy.
If you don’t mulch, shallow cultivation such as running a scuffle hoe through the first couple inches of soil to nab weeks when they are tiny and break up soil crust is better than running a heavy tiller through your patch once weeds get huge. Odds are large weeds will come right back after tilling, and/or you’ll bring new weed seeds to the surface. Many weed seeds last for decades in the soil, so I limit deep tilling to keep most of them waiting patiently underground.
8. Enjoy your homegrown tomatoes!
Once your tomatoes turn red (or pink or purple or yellow or striped or any of the other funky colors that heirloom tomatoes can be), remove them from the vine and enjoy. Don’t rip or tear the stems when picking – this stresses the plant and opens the path for disease and insect damage. Most tomatoes will have a little knob in their stems, about 1/4 to 1/2 inch above the tomato, where the stem will snap easily in two, releasing the tomato from the plant. I usually skip pulling the stem off until I’m ready to use the tomato, because sometimes pulling the stem off leaves a big old hole instead of a tiny mark.