Make Tomatoes See Red

Andrea Burns
Ford County Extension Agent

We have all heard the tricks about to grow the biggest and best tasting tomatoes. Have you heard the one about them liking red plastic mulch?

I have a friend who swore by red plastic mulch when growing tomatoes and it worked.

Now days, we have proven research that supports his theory.

Plastic mulches have long been known to provide advantages for the vegetable grower including earlier fruiting, increased yields and weed control. More recently advantages have been noted for colored mulches over the more traditional black plastic mulch. With tomatoes, the color of choice has been red. Though normally there is an increase in production of marketable fruit with red mulch over black mulch, the amount of the increase varies with the type of year we have.

There may be no increase during years of near-perfect weather or up to a 20% increase with less favorable growing conditions. A good average expected increase is about 12%.

So, how do you apply plastic mulch? Commercial growers have a mulch-laying machine that applies the trickle (drip) irrigation line and the mulch in one operation. Home gardeners must do this by hand. The first step after soil preparation is to place a trickle line near the center of where the mulch will lay as the plastic will prevent rainwater or overhead irrigation from reaching the plants. Then construct trenches for the outer 6 inches of the plastic mulch. This allows the center of the bed to be undisturbed with the edges of the mulch draping down into the trench.

Fill the trenches to cover the edges of the mulch. This will prevent wind from catching and blowing the mulch. If the soil has been tilled, a hoe is all that is needed to prepare the trenches.

While we are not past our frost-free date yet here in Ford County.

I hope you see red… with lots of tasty tomatoes on your vines this summer.

For more information on growing tomatoes, contact the Ford County Extension Office or check out our website ( or Facebook page (FordcountyextensionI).

Have a great weekend!