Home Garden Tomatoes
In almost every survey, tomatoes always come out on top as the favorite vegetable of home gardeners. And why not? They're easy to grow and even a single plant will produce lots of vine-ripe fruit that can't be equaled.
The first factor to consider is what variety to grow. If you don't start your plants from seeds, you will be limited to the varieties of plants that you can buy in local stores. Starting tomatoes from seed is easy, but they need to be started very early if you are going to have fruit before midsummer. For earlier fruit, buy good quality plants.
The choice of variety is somewhat subjective. Everyone has their favorites. I usually suggest that you try out different varieties, since you may find a new one that you really like. Grow your favorites, but try out a new variety or two each year as well. Also, some varieties are better adapted to an area than others, so by trying out different varieties, you will find out what does best for you.
Varieties will differ, however, in their ability to withstand diseases. This is especially true if you have soil-borne problems such as verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or nematodes. Look for a V, F, or N (or combination of those letters) next to the variety name. This indicates that the tomato variety is resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or nematodes. You may also see other letters, like T (tobacco mosaic virus resistance), A (alternaria stem canker resistance), or S (grey leaf spot resistance).
Another consideration in choosing a tomato variety is fruit set in hot weather. When the temperature climbs close to 100 degrees, tomatoes do not set fruit well. Some varieties have been bred for hot climates, and will set fruit better under high temperatures.
You can also choose between determinate and indeterminate varieties. Determinate varieties have more compact vines, usually between three and five feet in height. Indeterminate tomatoes are more "viney," and some vines may reach lengths of 8 feet or more. These plants will obviously need some kind of support system, such as staking.
There are also semi-determinate varieties, which have growth habits in between the determinate and indeterminate types.
You can also choose between color, size, and type. Tomato varieties have been developed for all kinds of traits and purposes: low-acid, processing, cherry types, sweeter types, hot weather, earliness, disease resistance, etc. There's no perfect variety. Just choose what's best suited to your purpose, needs and preference.
If you would like to grow tomatoes, but don't have a garden spot, tomatoes can be grown in containers. I've seen them grown in 5 gallon buckets, for example. Container-grown tomatoes will have to be monitored more closely for water needs, and perhaps a little extra fertilizer. You can also move them around, if needed. If you choose to grow your tomatoes in containers, I would suggest a determinate variety. Also, be sure to use a potting soil, not garden soil, when using containers.
Tomatoes may be planted any time after the danger of frost is passed. But keep in mind that they are warm-weather plants, and don't like the cold. They may need covering if cold temperatures are forecasted. Just remember to take the cover off after it warms up, so that they don't cook.
In my next column, I'll cover fertilizing tomatoes and special needs that tomatoes have. In later columns, I will discuss problems with fruit set, insects, diseases, and physiological problems. In the meantime, if you would like more information, please give us a call and ask for Guide sheet G6461, "Growing Home Garden Tomatoes."
University of Missouri Extension programs are open to all.
Tim Baker is a horticulture specialist with the University of Missouri Extension. He can be reached at BakerT@missouri.edu or 660-663-3232.