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Successfully Growing Tomato Plants In Montana

Some Short Season Tomato Growing Tips

by Damien Andrews

Vegetable gardeners living in Montana are accustomed to some of the green-thumb tricks it can take to grow juicy, red tomatoes successfully in our super-short growing season. The number one tip for growing tomato plants in Montana is to be patient and wait before setting your plants into the soil. Do not jump the gun and plant too early, or you will take a chance of losing your tender young transplants to frost, snow or freezing temperatures.

According to the Montana State University Extension office, the date for the last frost in my county is June 6th. For most folks in the USA, this is an extremely late date in which to plant your garden! That is the number one reason Montana gardeners (and those with similarly short growing seasons) lose their precious plants, they become inpatient, plant too early, and along comes an early morning frost, wiping out their tender transplants.

My advice, having put in several organic Montana vegetable gardens, is to wait until after your county's last frost date before planting your tomato plants outside. If your area of Montana suddenly receives a blanket of fresh snow, which is very common in spring and early summer, hours of hard work can quickly go down the drain. Be prepared for this, even if you do wait to plant after recommended dates.

Tomato plant Growing Tips:
1. After you put your tomato plants into the soil, place an empty plastic milk jug over the top of it to create a wind barrier and somewhat of a greenhouse effect. You can also plant tomato plants in the center of old tires, creating an area of raised, heated soil, which in turn speeds up root growth.
2. After your tomato plants are in the ground, apply a suitable garden mulch, like straw, around the base of the plants, extending out about two feet. This will retain the precious moisture required to successfully grow tomato plants. If you don't have straw, you can use store-bought mulch or even peat moss.
3. When you water, make sure you take the time to water deeply. It is best to wet the upper foot of soil every week. Frequent light watering can do more harm than good, not to mention wasting water.

One of the dreaded diseases tomato plants can get is Blossom End Rot. It actually looks like it sounds. The end of the tomato, where the blossom is, turns an ugly brown color and dries up or sinks in. Blossom End Rot is caused by fluctuating soil moisture levels. To keep this from happening, make sure there is an even moisture supply, and never let the soil dry, then overwater, dry, and then overwater. Apply a layer of straw as a mulch, to help keep moisture levels even.

Some tomato plants I have successfully grown in Montana are: Early Pick Hybrid, Northern Exposure, and Springset varieties. I also like to have a few small fruit varieties in my organic Montana garden as well. My favorite ones are Juliet Hybrid, Pixie Hybrid and Tumbler Hybrid. Unlike most tomato growers, I start my tomato plants indoors from seeds – usually on a heated seed mat.

You can easily grow tomato plants in Montana if you take a few precautions. Don't plant too early. Start with transplants, instead of seeds. Don't over fertilize with Nitrogen. Remove bad fruit before it takes a toll on your plant's health. And finally, select early to early-mid-season varieties of tomato plants that ripen their fruit in 60 to 70 days.


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