As we approach the longest day of the year and slide into the lazy, hazy days of summer, remember to keep an eye on the tomatoes and peppers in your garden. Consistent watering and fertilizing and being alert to pests and diseases will pay off with tasty homegrown fruit.
Have you been too busy to set out tomatoes and peppers this year? No problem! Look to The Home Depot Garden Center for Bonnie Plants edibles that are caged in containers. These 11-inch pots have everything you need: plants, potting soil and a cage to support growth. When you get it home, be sure to put the plant in a spot that gets six to eight hours of sunlight each day and make sure it gets water every day.
When buying edibles late in the season, look for fruit that is already set and also has flowers for future fruit. Ripening tomatoes and peppers fit right into a foodscape, providing jewel-colored fruit to complement summer-loving annuals like geraniums.
If you already have tomatoes and peppers in the ground, pay attention to your plants to get the best harvest.
Mid-season tips for tomatoes and peppers:
- Trouble setting fruit? When temps are higher than 85 degrees Fahrenheit during the day and 75 degrees Fahrenheit at night, tomatoes are unable to set fruit. It’s a similar scenario for peppers, though hot peppers such as jalapeños have more heat tolerance than bell peppers. Bell peppers may drop flowers in the hottest days of July, but will rally as nights grow cooler later in the summer. Solution: Keep plants fertilized and watered and when the weather starts to cooperate, your plants will be ready to produce.
- Stopping blossom end rot. If you see a soft, sunken water-soaked, sometimes moldy spot on the bottom of tomatoes or peppers, that’s blossom end rot. This problem has to do with adequate calcium in the developing fruit. To alleviate this, make sure plants receive consistent water, 2-3 inches a week when planted in the ground. A blanket of mulch will keep evaporation down. Fertilize with a plant food designed for tomatoes like Vigoro Tomato and Vegetable Garden Plant Food Plus Calcium.
- Finding it hard to water the plants? Snake a soaker hose through the garden and heap mulch on top. For more efficient watering, hook up a hose timer to the spigot and control the flow.
- Suckering tomatoes. “Suckering” tomato plants, or removing the suckers, makes sense because it promotes air circulation, keeps down disease, and focuses the plant’s energy on growing fruit. Small leaves and tender stems can be pinched off with your fingers; pruning snips give a clean cut to thicker stems. Tomatoes also benefit when you remove leaves from the bottom of the plant, up to 18 inches from the ground. This eliminates soil-borne diseases and blight that can splash onto lower leaves.
- When to harvest. The rich color that signifies a ripe tomato comes from warmth, not light. When temperatures are cool, go ahead and pick fruit that’s red-orange and bring it inside to ripen. Lining up your garden’s best fruit along a sunny windowsill isn’t the speediest way to ripen it; rather, put unripened tomatoes in a loosely closed paper bag. Peppers put on a show as they change from green to yellow to red. Generally, the redder the pepper, the hotter it is. Picking peppers encourages more production in the plant. Unlike tomatoes, it’s best to store fresh-picked peppers in the refrigerator.
On the whole, peppers are more easygoing than tomatoes. If you’re planting in mid-season, choose thin-walled and smaller peppers such as banana peppers that will mature faster.
Peppers are not susceptible to many pests, although aphids can be a concern. Knock them off with a spray of water or with insecticidal soap, being careful to get the underside of the leaves.
Need help identifying pests and diseases in your vegetable garden? Check out The Home Depot’s Weed, Plant and Pest Problem Solver.
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