Fertilizers for Tomatoes

Tomatoes are among the most popular plants for growing in home vegetable gardens. Relatively easy to grow, they offer juicy, tasty fruits with minimal effort. For an exceptionally good yield, provide your tomato plants with a well-balanced fertilizer. While there is no single fertilizer recipe that's best for tomatoes, you can optimize your harvest by paying attention to nutrient content and applying at points when the plant is most receptive.

  1. N-P-K Fertilizers

    • Tomatoes respond well to balanced chemical fertilizers that contain a combination of nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, indicated as N-P-K. These fertilizers are typically labeled with a series of three numbers, corresponding to the respective number of parts of each nutrient. For a balanced blend, opt for 8-8-8 or 10-10-10 blends, also known as "complete" fertilizers. If your soil is already fairly rich in nitrogen, you could alternately use 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizers. You can also use these N-P-K fertilizers to create a starter solution for your tomato plants, a diluted application of fertilizer to apply when first planting or transplanting a seedling into the garden.

    Organic Fertilizers

    • If you prefer to avoid chemical fertilizers, tomatoes also respond well to fertilizers made from organic materials. As with chemical fertilizers, look for a balanced blend of nutrients. Compost makes an excellent supplement to natural fertilizers such as manure, worm castings, bat guano or fish emulsion.

    Required Nutrients

    • Healthy tomato plants have a long list of nutrient needs. Instead of focusing on a particular type of fertilizer, look for fertilizers or a combination of fertilizers that meet all the plants' nutritional needs, given your soil's pre-existing nutrient value. In addition to nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium, tomatoes need an ample supply of micronutrients such as calcium, magnesium, sulfur, iron, copper, manganese, zinc, boron and molybendum. The particular interactions among the elements can also influence the tomato plants' growth. For example, it's important not to overfeed plants with excessive potassium, as this can interfere with calcium and magnesium absorption. As a result, the magnesium deficiency can cause blossom-end rot on lower branches.

    Additional Factors

    • Besides the particular type of fertilizer you select, the rate and timing of your application has an enormous effect on your tomato plants' health. Generally, it's advantageous to fertilize the garden once before planting your tomatoes. When transplanting seedlings, apply a diluted starter solution of about 2 tbsp. balanced N-P-K fertilizer to 1 gallon of water. Next, you should side-dress fertilizer once the plants have produced their first fruits. Repeat the application after two weeks and again after one month.

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  • Photo Credit tomato plant image by Crisps85 from Fotolia.com

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