What Is the Best Fertilizer for 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.
Important Facts That You Must Know
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- Phosphorous is crucial for the growth and development of roots and it is, therefore, an important nutrient in the initial stages.
- Nitrogen takes care of the foliage, but too much nitrogen leads to bushy plants with little or no fruit.
- 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 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 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 Organic bone meal fertilizer
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 3 to 6 inches away from the stem of your tomato plant just after transplanting. Jobe's 6-18-6 organic fertilizer spikes
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 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. OMRI-Listed Organic Compost Fertilizer
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.