How to grow tomatoes on Long Island

Long Islanders love their summer tomatoes. Long Islanders love their summer tomatoes. Photo Credit: Newsday/Rebecca Cooney

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Growing tomatoes on Long Island can be quite a challenge because our weather conditions are so inconsistent. Consider last summer's chronic cool, damp cloudiness contrasted with this year's scorching heat waves and rain shortage. "Since weather conditions in Long Island seem to have extreme fluctuations and seasonal differences," tomato growers are often at the mercy of the climate, Julie Seghrouchni, horticulture educator for the Cornell Cooperative Extension of Nassau County, explained. But, she added, "you can have success by following best growing practices and cultural conditions."

Tomatoes are sun-loving plants, and direct, unobstructed sunlight for a minimum of 6 hours daily is essential for the best fruit production. The cloudless days, strong heat and bright sunshine this year were ideal for growing tomatoes successfully, she said - if gardeners were diligent about keeping the soil evenly moist at all times. Seghrouchni warned that keeping the soil soggy or allowing it to dry out between waterings would lead to disappointing results. Consistency is key.

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Cold, hard or poorly drained soil will not grow a good crop, she said. To get a good crop in the parts of Long Island with heavier clay soil, like that throughout much of the North Shore, soil should be amended with large quantities of organic matter like compost or well-rotted manure before planting.

And Long Island soil tends to be on the acidic side, so a soil pH test always should be conducted before planting, and dolomitic lime added, especially if the pH registers below 6.2. If the vegetable bed is near a fertilized lawn, Seghrouchni cautioned, plants could be subjected to excess nitrogen, which would boost plant growth at the expense of fruit production, so gardeners should consider either relocating the bed or adjusting fertilizer treatments.

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