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Missouri Environment & Garden


Manjula Nathan
University of Missouri
Plant Science & Technology
(573) 882-3250

Fertilizing Tomatoes for Delicious Fruits

Manjula Nathan
University of Missouri
(573) 882-3250

Published: June 15, 2017

variety of tomatoes

We all prefer to have delicious tomatoes from our garden. In addition to taste, commercial growers try to produce quality tomatoes to market their crop. To attain these goals, it is important for you to focus on fertilizing your tomatoes to get delicious and quality fruits. An article on "Fertilizing for Delicious Tomatoes" written by Dr. Rob Mikkelsen in Plant Nutrition Today did a nice job of summarizing this topic. Below are some key points from his article that will be of use to our avid gardeners.

Managing soil fertility and application of plant nutrients, as per soil test recommendations, will influence the quality of the tomatoes and is essential to harvesting abundant, flavorful, and nutritious tomatoes. (Mikkelsen, 2017). Soil test provides an understanding of what nutrients are already present so that the lab can provide the fertilizer and lime recommendations. Applying fertilizers without testing your soil, can cause imbalance of nutrients and will end up having plants that grow but doesn't produce any or much fruits. So remember, soil testing is the first step for growing quality tomatoes.

Tomato flavor preferences may differ depending on individuals. The intensity of flavor properties of tomato fruits is determined by the amount of sugar, organic acid content (citric, malic and total acidity) and the volatile compound composition. Normally people find the best flavor to be associated with high soluble solids, high sugar, and high acid content. Light has the most profound effects on fruit sugar concentration. This results in winter grown greenhouse tomatoes, having less sugar than field grown tomatoes produced in summer.

Effects of nitrogen (N), phosphorus (P), and potassium (K) on tomato quality: Research studies examining the effect of plant nutrients in tomatoes revealed tomatoes receiving enhanced NPK nutrition (150%) had fruits with better quality, color and market acceptability than the ones receiving standard NPK nutrition (100%). Many studies have shown P and K nutrition has positive effects on fruit sugar and acid content. High P application was shown to produce higher sugar content in tomatoes when compared to low P conditions. Supply of K had been found to increase acid content of tomatoes. Many studies have reported moderate N supply will improve tomato flavor, but excess N can harm the fruit favor. Heavy N and K fertilization can also have detrimental effects on fruit favor.

Research has shown when adequate K is supplied, tomatoes respond by producing more of the health promoting carotenoids and red lycopene which results in red color in tomatoes. Tomato variety selection, degree of ripeness, growing conditions and providing adequate plant nutrition are all important in producing tasty tomatoes with better flavor and appearance.

Source: Mikkelsen, R. L., 2017. Fertilizing for Delicious Tomatoes? Plant Nutrition Today 2017. Issue 2, No 3.

Additional reading:
Lester, G. E., J. L. Jifon, and J. J. Markus. 2010. Better Crops 94 (2):18-21.
Mikkelsen, R.L. @005. Better Crops 89 (2):14-15.

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REVISED: February 21, 2017