If you’re part of the United Community Bank family, you know May equals tomato plants for many of our customers. The tradition began over 35 years ago with the very first Customer Appreciation Day. The tomato plant was given to customers as a “thank you” for helping the bank grow. That growth, along with our unwavering appreciation for our customers, has continued through the years. While our in-branch celebrations for this year’s Customer Appreciation Day aren’t like years past, we still have a special place in our heart for tomato plants. Ripe, juicy tomatoes are the prize possession of many gardens. So if you are planting tomato plants this season, follow these time-tested growing tips to ensure your tomato bragging rights this year. Location, location, location. Tomato plants thrive in direct sunlight. Choose your sunniest garden spot—aiming for seven hours of sunshine a day and dig deep. Plant your tomato plants all the way up to the top few leaves. If your garden bed is shallower, simply build a trench and lay the plant sideways. When planted this way, tomatoes are able to develop roots all along their stems. And more roots make for a stronger plant. Test and treat the soil. Tomatoes thrive in rich, well-draining, slightly acidic soil with a pH of 6.5 to 6.8. To determine pH, pick up a soil tester from your local garden store or the garden center at the home improvement store. If the soil is too acidic, add dolomite lime. If it’s too alkaline, add sulfur or composted organic matter. Solar power. Tomatoes like warmth. Wait until soil temps are consistently over 60 degrees Fahrenheit before planting outside. Keep tomato plants in pots in warmer environments if the weather is iffy and transfer once temperatures get warmer. Expert tip: Tomato plants need to move and sway in the breeze to develop strong stems. That happens naturally outdoors, but if you start your plants inside, you need to provide some type of air circulation. Create a breeze by turning a fan on them for five to ten minutes, twice a day. That small amount of time will make a big difference. Water thoroughly and lay on the mulch. Thriving tomatoes need plenty of water. The rule of thumb is to ensure your plants get at least 1 inch of water per week, but during hot, dry spells, they may need more. If your plants start to look wilted for most of the day, give them a drink. Adding a blanket of mulch after temperatures are warm during the day and night will help keep the water from evaporating in summer’s heat. Don’t neglect pruning. After your tomato plants reach about 3 feet tall, remove the leaves from the bottom foot of the stem. These are the oldest leaves, and they are usually the first leaves to develop fungus problems. As the plants fill out, the bottom leaves get the least amount of sun and airflow. Removing them helps prevent fungal diseases from taking hold. You can pinch off smaller leaves or use pruning snips to give a clean cut to thick stems. When the time is right. The lush color that signifies a ripe tomato comes from warmth, not light. If summer’s temps are too cool, go ahead and pick fruit that’s red-orange and bring it inside to ripen. Putting unripen tomatoes in a loosely closed paper bag will help the fruit to reach peak ripeness. With some love and care, we hope your tomato plants grow as big and full as our appreciation for you.