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What Is the Best Fertilizer for Tomatoes?

Updated on January 26, 2018
lobobrandon profile image

From his early days, Brandon helped his grandmother in her garden. He was always passionate about tomatoes.

If you're new to gardening, growing tomatoes and picking the best fertilizer may seem like a daunting task. But, don't let that get to you. With the right guidance, you're going to have an amazing crop, year after year. Whether you're growing tomatoes from seeds or planning on buying seedlings from the local nursery, plant nourishment is a topic you don't want to be ignorant about.

Before we proceed, let me get one thing clear. There is no single fertilizer that works best for all gardens. If there were, gardening would be simple, wouldn't it? But, there are simple ways to determine the right fertilizer to use for your tomato crop.

Expect a bounty this season
Expect a bounty this season | Source

Important Facts That You Must Know

  1. The fertilizer requirement of tomato plants depends on the stage of growth. But it is important that every nutrient be present at all times, the suggested ratio is what changes.
  2. The roots of tomato plants, in general, aren't deeper than 6-7". I would keep this in mind when mixing fertilizer into the soil.
  3. Commercial fertilizers have a number series such as 10-8-10 which basically stands for N-P-K. This means the fertilizer contains 10% of Nitrogen, 8% of phosphorous and 10% of Potassium with the rest being filler material.
  4. Phosphorous is crucial for the growth and development of roots and it is, therefore, an important nutrient in the initial stages.
  5. Nitrogen takes care of the foliage, but too much nitrogen leads to bushy plants with little or no fruit.
  6. Potassium helps the plant grow rapidly and produce fruit. Naturally, it is the most important nutrient during the fruiting season.

Fertilizer While Transplanting Tomato Plants

Once the tomato seedlings have germinated, they are going to grow very quickly with an initial burst in growth prior to their flowering. As a rule of thumb, it is safe to assume that they would bear fruit within four months of being planted (in case you were wondering). Of course, this depends on many factors such as the type of tomato plant, the soil and the environmental conditions to name a few.

When you transplant your seedlings from their germinating pot to their final pot/container or to the garden it is important that you get the right mix of nutrients into the soil. As specified in the facts that you must know, phosphorous is vital for the growth of roots while potassium helps with flowering and fruiting and nitrogen help with the foliage. The plants aren't just going to be growing in height and girth, but they are also going to branch out, causing them to be top heavy. You may want to provide external support to prevent the plants from drooping and falling over. You should also follow the right watering techniques to ensure deep rooting.

All plants need nitrogen to grow. Most soil naturally contains sufficient nitrogen for plant growth. You would know for sure if you've tested your soil. However, as a general rule of thumb, at this stage of growth, your tomato plants are only going to need Phosphorous with a slight amount of Nitrogen.

Bone Meal

Bone meal is a great way to stick to organic fertilizers while at the same time ensuring that your tomato plants have sufficient phosphorous to grow strong roots which in turn results in the opportunity to produce a lot of fruit. Bone meal, as the name suggests is a fertilizer made up of ground animal bones, usually beef bones, but other animal bones including fish bones may be used. Today, most commercial bone meal products available are in the ratio of 3-15-0. One of my favorites is the Jobe's Organic bone meal fertilizer with a 2-14-0 ratio. The calcium in this mix also prevents blossom end rot, a common tomato plant disease. One application of this during transplanting is all you need. Some other fertilizers would be used for the fruiting stage. Before adding bone meal it is advisable that you check the pH level of the soil. If it is above 7, you should work on reducing this before adding the fertilizer. Bone meal is a slow release fertilizer and it takes up to 4 months to break down in the soil. This is why one application at the rate of 1 pounds to 10 square feet (1 kg to 2 square meters).

Jobe's Bone meal fertilizer
Jobe's Bone meal fertilizer

Fertilizer Spikes

It's best to use a combination of bone meal and organic fertilizer spikes, but it's totally understandable if you don't want to use bone meal because it's an animal product. In that case, I would measure my soil and add a bit of traditional phosphorous fertilizer available at your local gardening store or on Amazon. But, I would definitely recommend you place Jobe's 6-18-6 organic fertilizer spikes 3 to 6 inches away from the stem of your tomato plant just after transplanting.

This is even more important if you're growing your tomatoes in a container as the plants use up the nutrients faster than you can imagine. You don't have to get yourself the Jobe's fertilizers, all you need is a spike that contains a higher percentage of phosphorous and at the same time a decent amount of nitrogen and potassium. Fertilizer spikes just need to be pushed into the soil. Watch the video below for a quick demonstration. In general, they last around 2 months before being used up.

How to Use Fertilizer Spikes

Consistent Addition of Fertilizers Is Necessary

As already explained above, tomato plants are heavy feeding plants. Therefore, you're going to want to make sure that the plant has sufficient nutrition throughout its growth. You cannot just have good soil at the time of planting the seeds and then forget about it. This could potentially lead to stunted growth or yellowing of the leaves and fruit.

For tomato plants to grow successfully and for their cells to function normally, they would need plenty of macronutrients such as Phosphates, Nitrogen, Calcium, Potassium, Magnesium and Potassium in addition to a huge list of micronutrients.

Whatever happens do not be lazy and flood the container or garden with fertilizers thinking to yourself that the plant would use how much it needs and that the rest would stay in the soil for the future growth of the plant. Having a lot of fertilizer could literally burn the roots of the plant. Therefore, it is wise to add a bit at a time and to also ensure that the plants are well watered.

You've Got Two Options

I'm not going to be going into any specific kind of fertilizers such as Nitrogen, Phosphorous, etc. Instead, I'm going to help you determine what your plants need. The best thing to do is get your soil tested as this is the best way to know exactly which nutrients are missing. But, this is going to cost you both time and money and let's be honest; most of us do not want to do this.

This leaves us with the second option where we play it safe and only use compost which is naturally a mix of the important nutrients plants require to grow. It may not be in the perfect ratio required in your particular case, but it is still going to be good enough.

Inorganic Tomato Fertilizers

Are you not enthusiastic about organic gardening? Then this is the section for you. I personally prefer to use organic manure, but inorganics get the job done, too. The best use of inorganic fertilizers is seen once you've done a soil test as you would then know exactly which ratio of Nitrogen, Phosphorous and Potassium is required and it would also help you buy the right mix of fertlizer from your local store.

If you've not done a soil test you're going to have to go in blind. In that case, I would just add in a little of the fertilizer mix into the soil and see what happens. If you notice your plant growing slow you may need to add a little more nitrogen, since nitrogen is a part of every protein and hence a vital nutrient for growth.

Phosphorous, on the other hand, is important for root growth and flowering. It is important to know that phosphrous, unlike nitrogen, moves around in the soil quite slowly and therefore you're going to want to mix it into the soil so that it's well within reach of the roots.

Potassium regulates metabolism and helps in the transport of water and growth of roots. It mixes into the soil a lot easier than phosphorous.

Organic Tomato Fertilizers

Commercial fertilizers usually enrich the soil with just nitrogen, phosphorus and potassium. However, the right fertilizer for tomato plants will have to add even the many micronutrients that are needed for the proper growth of tomato plants.

Therefore, adding inorganic fertilizers could be an option; but, not entirely the way to go. That’s the reason many gardeners create their own compost using all sorts of compost material right from dried leaves, to fruit waste and also animal dung. Using compost that comprises of all these materials will surely be more than enough to ensure that your tomato plants get the right fertilizers. If you're looking to buy compost, I'd suggest this OMRI-Listed Organic Compost Fertilizer which is basically composted chicken poop. You could either soak it in water and use the water on your plants or directly mix it into the soil. Personally, I'd mix it into the soil to get the most out of it, but there are other gardeners who choose to go the other way.

Crop Rotation

Another great way to ensure that your soil has all the right ingredients for a successful tomato season would be to implement crop rotation. Grow legumes if possible as they help enrich the nitrogen content of the soil. Crop rotation also helps prevent the growth of soil-borne diseases.

What have you decided?

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Comments

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    • profile image

      Ram sharma 

      2 years ago

      Thanks a lot for good information.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      3 years ago

      Thanks a lot for the compliments and shares patsybell

    • Patsybell profile image

      Patsy Bell Hobson 

      3 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO

      Good information. Nicely written. Voted up, I,U, Pin,tweet

    • Shyron E Shenko profile image

      Shyron E Shenko 

      5 years ago from Texas

      Very useful information especially for people who don't have much success at growing anything (me). It is to hot, here and not enough rain and to much sun.

    • sgbrown profile image

      Sheila Brown 

      5 years ago from Southern Oklahoma

      Great information. Consistent watering and fertilization are two of the most important keys to growing tomatoes successfully. Putting about 2 inches of mulch around my tomato plants was one of the best things I ever learned about growing tomatoes. It made such a huge difference in how well they grew. We used mulched leaves from our spring clean-up and then at the end of the year, we turn them into the soil and they create great compost. We also till in the chicken manure and hay from our chicken house before we plant, it seems to really help. I enjoyed your hub, voting up, useful, interesting, sharing and pinning. :)

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      5 years ago

      Glad you liked this :) hope it helps you when it comes to fertilizing your tomatoes if at all you do grow them.

    • jackinabox profile image

      jackinabox 

      5 years ago

      Interesting hub. Lots of details that I like. Thank you.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Yes, you should have stuck with compost. I guess egg shells take time to break down and what you use this time may be ready by next season. If you used a pot or any sort of container for those plants, I guess you'd have to discard all the soil as well - because, the fertilizer will still be there and could harm future crops.

      If you're going in for fertilizers there are plenty out there, don't blame yourself for trying out something. This will only lead to a better crop the next time around as you'll know what to avoid and what to use. If you don't make mistakes you'll never learn. And if you stick to just a single way of growing them and don't try anything, there's no fun in gardening!

      Hope you do get amazing fruit from the remaining plants, do let me know how it turns out.

    • alexadry profile image

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      6 years ago from USA

      I purchased a cheap tomato plant food by pennington expert 9-12-12 and my tomato plants went from standing up to dying within hours! I made pictures and complained with the company, plant food is not supposed to kill your plants! I googled and found another guy went through the same exact ordeal. And these were full-grown plants with flowers almost as tall as me! All the other plants are doing fine, so I know it was the plant food. I wished I listened to my mom who told me to use plain egg shells and compost!

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Yup, here check out some images on google images - http://goo.gl/p6awJ

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 

      6 years ago from Earth

      Oh, I didn't think to mention, but I take the tea leaves out of the used tea bags and half of the tea I brew is green tea. Milk? You use milk with tea? Anyway, good luck with your crop this year; cheers!

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      That's exactly what I do with vegetable waste. However I don't add tea bags and throw them in the garbage instead. Because I noticed, the tea bags have milk too once used if you mix hot water and milk together then use the bag (if it's not black tea) which causes worms :)

      Thanks for the comment and I'm glad you liked it.

    • Insane Mundane profile image

      Insane Mundane 

      6 years ago from Earth

      I usually add vegetable waste along with used tea bags to the soil periodically for a couple months - before planting - then I give 'em a boost with Miracle-Gro a few times during the growing season while the other organic stuff breaks down and decomposes into the soil, and have great success. Well, that is, unless it gets invaded with Tomato Hornworms, then I have to take further action, etc.

      Nice Hub!

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Thanks dialogue :)

    • dialogue profile image

      dialogue 

      6 years ago

      You write always good hubs, keep it up! I like this hub on Tomato fertilizing.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      No problem, your welcome :)

    • profile image

      Tony Trenton 

      6 years ago

      Many thank's for the clarification

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      If you're already harvesting the crop, I guess you could stop adding fertilizer. There will be enough nutrients in the soil for the plants to continue growing while the rest of the fruit is ready for picking.

    • profile image

      Tony Trenton 

      6 years ago

      The fertilizer contains 7% Nitrogen, 3% Phosphorus, & 7% Potassium.

      How long should I continue adding the fertilizer to the water ?

      Thank you.

      Tony

    • profile image

      Tony Trenton 

      6 years ago

      Thank you Lobrandon

      I am stating to 'harvest' the crop. So far one plumb type and 3 regular have turned red. A couple more are turning orange.

      Should I continue to add the 5 drops / Ltr. Until the end of the crop ?

      I don't know the PH. of the soil or the composition of the fertilizer, but it seems OK so far.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Hi Tony, it's great that the plants are growing well and fruiting too. I don't know what fertilizer your using (I mean the composition). But, since your plants are growing and fruiting well with it continue using it until its time to harvest the crop.

    • profile image

      Tony Trenton 

      6 years ago

      I have a small balcony tray of 15 tomato plants grown from tomatoes I bought from the supermarket. I don't know the varieties , but some are plumb and some regular shaped. I made a drip feed watering system. I bought some liquid fertilizer. I add 5 drops per liter of water every two days. I use 8 liters of water per day. the excess drains away.

      The plants seem OK and are fruiting well.

      Should I continue to add the 5 drops of fertilizer / liter of water or is there a cut off point. ?

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      Thank you lobobrandon.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Suzzycue, adding chemical fertilizer often would surely burn the plants up. That's why I mentioned adding compost or vegetable waste directly as it would decay slowly and release nutrients at a controlled pace. If you have any more questions feel free to leave a comment :)

    • suzzycue profile image

      Susan Britton 

      6 years ago from Ontario, Canada

      This is great lobobrandon. Thanks for answering my question with so much great information. My tomato plants grow spindly and very small tomatoes so will feed fertilizer more often. I din't know you could fertilize so often in the summer when you plant in pots. I thought it would burn the plants up.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Hi Minicoop, I'm really glad I managed to answer all your tomato questions and thanks for the comments and letting me know :) I do hope your daughters project turns out to be something truly amazing!

    • profile image

      minicoop2199 

      6 years ago

      LOVE THIS WEBSITE!!! This site is so helpful. I found all the answers to my tomato questions on this site.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Haha ;) I'm not quite sure about Cow peas but if they're growing well you could do it every year. Plant Cow peas in another spot this time and grow tomatoes there next year once again :)

    • WD Curry 111 profile image

      WD Curry 111 

      6 years ago from Space Coast

      Hey! I did the right thing by accident. I planted my tomatoes where I had cow peas last year. No wonder they are doing well.

      Keep up the good work lobobrandon, your enthusiasm, charisma and work ethic give me hope for the future!

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Hi Anwar thanks for adding amazing information to this hub. I've never given tomato tone a try

    • profile image

      Anwar Riaz 

      6 years ago

      Compost, composted cow manure, Bone Meal and Tomato Tone is the best combination to grow Tomato Plants

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      Yup that's exactly what I tried to convey. But a bit of chemical fertilizers wouldn't be harmful. Just a tiny bit and not too much.

    • Naima Manal profile image

      Naima Manal 

      6 years ago from NY

      I agree that it is better for the tomato plants, and other fruits and vegetables, to use organic fertilizers. It is better for the environment and for the food that you will consume.

    • lobobrandon profile imageAUTHOR

      Brandon Lobo 

      6 years ago

      It surely is better as it doesn't harm all the flora and fauna vital for the well being of the soil. Take for instance earthworms - they're important for the growth of plants as they provide natural aeration to the soil. Chemicals will kill them or make them move away.

    • cyoung35 profile image

      Chad Young 

      6 years ago from Corona, CA

      I prefer organic fertilizer but I'm not sure it's better for you than inorganic.

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