Am I the only one who thinks tomatoes are a side dish? I love to slice tomatoes thick and drizzle them with salad dressing. No lettuce required, tomatoes steal the show all on their own. If you are raising your eyebrows at me right now it’s probably because you haven’t had a truly tasty tomato straight from the garden and full of flavor.

Follow these expert tips and you’ll have a full harvest of beautiful tomatoes.

Location. Location. Location.

Gardening is like real estate, it’s all about finding the right location for the right plant. Plants also don’t like to stay in one place too long.

Tomatoes are big eaters, so they take a lot of the nutrients from the soil. Move them each year to a new sunny spot, don’t use the same place each year. Also, tomatoes aren’t great neighbors and tend to share diseases if they are too close, so be sure they are 3-4 feet apart.

Planting

Be sure to plant tomatoes nice and deep. An overcast day when the soil is warm creates ideal planting conditions so the plants are comfortable during transplanting. Some experts swear by adding crushed eggshells into the bottom of the hole when planting tomatoes. The calcium from the shells is absorbed into the roots and creates beautiful red tomatoes.

Soil

If you live in the Midwest where black soil is everywhere and gardening comes easy, enjoy it! For the rest of us, our soil needs a little help for growing nice vegetables.

If you have access to manure from a friend or nearby farmer, take advantage of it – if you don’t, you can pick up compost at the garden store to blend into the soil. Be sure to buy gardening soil, not potting soil. Wait for the soil to be warm to plant tomatoes, waiting will pay off in the end with bigger and taller plants.

Pests

When you start tomatoes, wrap the stems in cardboard or wax paper to avoid cutworms, which can be common. Once the stems toughten up in 3-4 weeks cut worms aren’t an issue. As the plants grow, stake them or cage them to support growth off the ground. Plants that sit on the ground are subject to more pest problems as they grow. Always pinch or clip off any leaves that touch the ground.

Food.

Tomatoes are hungry, so give them slow release fertilizer pellets at the beginning and thorough watering twice a week. Tomato plants work best when watered underneath the plant rather than water from above that gets the leaves wet and can contribute to disease. Continue to add fertilizer every other week or so, depending on growth.

Tomatoes can be high maintenance plants, but the labor of love is worth it when you have a harvest of tomatoes to bottle, can, steam, slice, and enjoy all year long.