To be a gardener, I think you need to be a persistent optimist. Gardeners face a lot of conditions outside our control. We cannot control the temperature, rain, bugs, or diseases, but the taste of a fresh peach or vine-ripened tomato motivates us to keep planting and growing.
Tomatoes are one of my favorite vegetables to grow, even though this has been a tough year for tomatoes. Large-fruited varieties of tomatoes do not pollinate well when daytime temperatures are above 90 degrees and nighttime temperatures are in the mid-70’s. Cherry or grape tomatoes can handle the heat better. It got hot early in May this year, and we missed the window for good pollination on a lot of tomatoes.
Poor pollination is not the only trouble with spring and summer tomatoes in Texas. We also struggle with early blight, spider mites, splitting fruit, and blossom-end rot. Why do we even bother with tomatoes in the spring? Well, because we are eternal optimists, and we love our tomatoes!
A crop of fall tomatoes is the answer to our gardening woes. Plant tomatoes during the first week of July to allow enough time for the plants to grow, set fruit, and produce a good harvest before the first freeze. Small or mid-sized varieties do well in the fall because temperatures will probably still be warm when they are pollinating.
You will need to take some extra care of your tomatoes to get them through the heat of summer. Acclimate your tomato transplants to full sun before you plant them in the ground. Provide the plants with some temporary shade for the first couple of weeks. You can wrap shade cloth or frost cloth around the sides of tomato cages to give some shade.
Water your tomatoes immediately at planting time and keep them well-watered. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose works well to deliver the water at the soil level. This is the most efficient way to get the water to the roots so it can be taken up by the plant. Avoid using a sprinkler that splashes water onto the leaves because it can lead to disease issues.
Vegetables plants use a lot of nitrogen to grow and produce fruit, so be sure to amend your soil before planting and use fertilizer throughout the growing season. I recommend using a tomato cage or a support structure. Research has shown that tomatoes will have higher yields when they are grown in cages, and I have seen evidence of that in my own garden.
Check your local nurseries for tomato transplants this week. Hopefully, we will all have a bumper crop of fall tomatoes this year! If you are interested in more fall gardening information, you can register for the Lawn and Garden 201 class starting on August 30. The four-part series will cover fall vegetable gardening, fruit trees, composting, and tree care. Register at https://williamson.agrilife.org/.
For more lawn and garden information, contact Kate Whitney, Williamson County AgriLife Horticulturist, at 512-943-3300.