Tomato growing tips from Lisa Merrell - Tomato Mans Daughter

Growing tomatoes is a passion in the U.S. Having the earliest, the biggest, and the sweetest is one of our competitive sports. Successful gardeners seem to have a secret they will not share and a bad year for tomatoes is an opportunity for listing the reasons such as temperature, rainfall, bugs, etc.

According to the experts, tomatoes need lots of light until the heat of the summer arrives, and then they need shade cloth to protect them from scalding. The Tomato Man’s Daughter, Lisa Merrell still uses her dad’s methods for growing (

Start by finding a place with 6 to 8 hours of sun. Then from July, until the end of the growing season, plan to cover the plants with shading fabric.

Tomatoes can be grown in large containers but many varieties’ root systems are large and require deep soil, so select a patio variety for best results. Consistent watering will help prevent splitting and blossom end rot.

Put mushroom compost or other compost plus a pound of composed manure and a tablespoon of Epsom salts into the planting hole before putting in the plant. If your tomatoes are already planted, scratch the Epsom salts and manure into the surrounding area of soil and water it in.

If you prefer to avoid animal manure, Merrell recommended this mixture: 1-Tablespoon blood meal, one-half cup bone meal, one-half cup greensand, 1-Tablespoon Epsom Salt, 1 whole banana, and 2-crushed calcium tablets.

Tomato plant stems should be buried deeper than they are growing in their original pots. All but the top leaves are removed and the bare stem is planted into a deep hole, leaving only the top leaves exposed. Some gardeners lay the leafless stem on its side in a trench instead of digging a deep hole. Either way, the advice is to bury the stem. Tomatoes develop roots all along the stem.

Plant tomatoes 3-feet apart so they have room to grow and have air circulation.

When the plants are 3-feet high, remove the leaves from the bottom of the stem to avoid the diseases that water splashing onto the leaves can cause. Also, remove leaves that look distressed or are turning yellow from age.

To prevent common problems such as cracking fruit, water regularly and deeply rather than only surface sprinkling. In weeks without rain, water twice a week with a soaker hose or the equivalent of one-to-two gallons of water per plant per week. A one-gallon plastic jug with a drip hole in the bottom can be put in place at planting time and filled twice weekly.

Fertilize twice a month with manure tea or alfalfa tea (made by soaking a handful of alfalfa pellets in 5 gallons of water) or apply a foliar spray made of a combination commercially available seaweed and fish emulsion (read labels for proper amounts) and a cup of dissolved Epson Salts per gallon.

Mulch tomatoes with alfalfa straw or hay.
Shake each plant gently twice a day after flowers appear to help set fruit.

Spray with Bordeaux before any signs of disease appear. (Now)
Use Bacillus Thuringiensis to control tomato hornworms and Pyrethrum for spider mites and aphids.

Blossom end rot, a water-soaked spot on the bottom of the tomato that turns black, is caused by extreme weather during a growth spurt. Foliar feeding with liquid calcium can correct the problem.

Merrell’s growing tips, sale dates and locations are on her website,, or you can call her at 918-446-7522.

A new nursery in Tulsa opened last month and has all the organic fertilizer ingredients Merrell suggests: Grogg’s Green Barn,,, 10105 East 61st Street, and 918- 994-4222.


It's good to know that shade actually helps during fruiting. I'll have to incorporate this, but I really have a distaste for shade cloth. However, I wonder if beans or maybe some jerusalem artichokes could be grown south of the tomatoes, which later in the year when the tomato is fruiting, would grow up and provide the necessary shade for the plants.
Molly said…
Lisa and her father before her grow/grew thousands of plants so their methods are more for selling tons of tomatoes.

For home gardeners, I bet your method would work quite well.

What did people do before shade cloth?

Probably they grew late vining crops to provide shade - though I don't think Jerusalem artichokes were grown widely back in the day.

Around here when it's 99 degrees for weeks on end, nothing much will grow and old sheets or shadecloth are our only options.

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