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Pat Sullivan's tomato tips

Indiana's favorite backyard and patio garden crop takes some care and feeding from planting to harvest. Pat Sullivan helps your efforts bear fruit - literally.

INDIANAPOLIS — When May days start to warm up, Hoosier homeowners and gardeners put their new tomato plants in the ground and begin the months-long nurturing process that hopefully results in a bumper crop of sweet fruits in the middle of summer. 

On 13Sunrise, Pat Sullivan from Sullivan Hardware and Garden explained the art of growing healthy tomato plants.

"Is there a best tomato?" No, said Sullivan. "There are a lot great tomatoes."

But the main choice a gardener has to make is whether to buy a determinate or an indeterminate variety.

Since tomato plants are actually vines, Sullivan recommends planting them deep from the start. Strip off the lower leaves from the main plant stem and place the root ball deep enough in the ground to cover the areas where you stripped the main stem. 

"'Indeterminate' means it's a vine and it will continue to grow during the growing season," explained Sullivan. "Determinate" tomato plants mature, bear fruit, and stop growing. "Those are good ones to put in pots," said Sullivan. Roma, celebrity and Indy tomatoes are determinate varieties.

They need at least seven hours of sunlight, plan your placement accordingly.

People have the tendency to over-water tomatoes, especially in a patio or container setting, said Sullivan. Tomatoes will wilt to protect leaves from the sun, especially in the afternoon. If you see wilted leaves in the afternoon, it's not necessarily a sign the plant needs water. But if you see wilted leaves in the morning, then it's time to water, said Sullivan.

Fertilize around the root ball when you plant a tomato. "You want a fertilizer that has calcium in it," said Sullivan, because it helps even out water content and prevents blossom end rot.

Plants may not self-pollinate in an enclosed area where the wind does not hit the blossoms. So you may have to gently shake the blossoms off the plant yourself.

Before the plant grows too large, set a tomato cage deep in the ground to help carry and train the vines and fruit as the plant. Pat said the larger the cage, the better. "I would put wooden stakes along the side," said Sullivan, to add stability and keep the plant's vines growing vertically.

Watch Sullivan's full 13Sunrise segment in the video player.

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