There definitely is no one single way to grow terrific tomatoes, but there are some basic techniques to increase your chances of success in tomato growing.
- Don’t plant in the shade. Six hour of sun is minimal.
- Sunlight = large, tasty fruit. Shade = skinny, straggly vines.
- Prepare the site by mixing in organic matter and fertilizer. Most soils are too low in organic matter and fertility.
- Plant in raised beds. Raised beds warm up earlier in the spring. Also, sometimes it rains too much and tomatoes can’t swim!
- Select locally proven varieties with a VFN after their name. There are plenty of diseases and insects out there that would love to have a shot at your tomatoes. By selecting a VFN variety you are two diseases and one case of nematodes ahead. Plant two or three varieties to “hedge you bet”. There is no “perfect” variety!
- Use a starter solution at transplanting. This gets plants off to a good start. This could be either a synthetic “liquid feed” product or an organic solution like compost or manure tea, or fish emulsion. Pour a cup of diluted solution in the planting hole and then water plants in with the same solution after planting.
- Mulch soil a few weeks after planting to control weeds and hold moisture. Mulch also reduces some disease problems.
- Stake or cage plants to keep fruit off the ground. Caging without suckering = more, smaller, later fruit. Staking and removing suckers – fewer, larger, earlier fruit. Take your pick!
- Feed plants weekly with a balanced fertilizer beginning after the first fruit set. Growing, producing plants get hungry. Once the first fruit set you really need to push plants along with good nutrition, especially the new hybrid varieties.
- Water regularly when the weather begins to warm up. Deep soakings are best.
- Inspect plants regularly for signs of insect and disease damage. Early control is very important!
Know the Different Growth Habits – Determinate and Indeterminate
There are two basic growth habits of tomatoes: Determinate and Indeterminate. Knowing how they are different can help you choose the best varieties for your garden.
Determinate tomatoes are “bush-type” tomatoes. They grow to a more compact height, usually under 4 feet, and tend to set fruit all at once. Once their main tomato crop is done, they may stop flowering altogether. Since they are just setting the one crop, you DON’T want to pinch these back. Determinate tomatoes are varieties that you often see farmers growing for canneries. Roma tomatoes are an example of this. Other varieties of determinate tomatoes that grow well in Austin are ‘Tycoon’ and ‘Viva Italia’. “Celebrity’ tomatoes are considered semi-determinate. You’ll also see varieties labeled as “dwarf” or “bush”.
Indeterminate tomatoes are those that grow until killed by frost or some other external factor. Many heirloom and cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate tomatoes. They will keep growing and trying to produce fruit for the entire growing season, and are going to require staking or caging. Some can even grow as long as 12 feet. These types of tomatoes can use an occasional pruning to encourage lateral versus vertical growth. These tomatoes need a sturdy cage or trellis. Indeterminate varieties ‘Big Beef’, ‘Black Krim’, Cherokee Purple, Juane Flamme, Stupice, Juliet, Sun Gold, and Yellow Pears all perform reasonably well in Texas. Another important factor is to keep attention in “days until harvest” since tomato plants start having problems producing when temperatures get too hot. Also, keep in mind that temperatures early in the planting season can drop significantly until late April- Early May, make sure you have a way to kill frost protect your tender young tomato plants. For more information on this or any other agricultural topic please contact the Hopkins County Extension Office at 903-885-3443 or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.