Herself's Houston Garden

Conservation through cultivation

Tomatoes




tomatoes

Tomatoes have turned out to be one of my biggest challenges in Houston. In New England you bought your tomato plants and stuffed them in the ground on Memorial Day. You might toss down a handful of fertilizer at that time. Then in August you had 8′ tall plants with a bushel full of tomatoes each.

It doesn’t work that way down here. Which is bad. It is so hot down here all the market tomatoes have been refrigerated somewhere along the way and once you refrigerate a tomato you may as well throw it out. It has no flavor after that.

You have two growing seasons for tomatoes in Houston. The first batch goes in Mid March and is done once night time lows stay above 70’F usually late June or early July. The second batch goes in mid August and goes until nights stay down under 50’F. Tomatoes are picky about putting out fruit. You need low temperatures above 50’F and below 70’F for tomatoes to make tomatoes.

More importantly tomatoes do not like clay soil. Not even a little. They will grow but not well and seem to settle in to the spot where you don’t pull them out because they look like there is hope but they never do better than that. You will need to put them in a raised bed or in large pots.

Tomatoes are heavy feeders which is also a challenge in Houston. They need a steady supply of fertilizer. Too much and you will have gorgeous plants with no tomatoes, too little and you’ll have small scraggly looking plants with no tomatoes.

My best success so far has been to pot up tomato plants in large pots. I buy a bag of fertilized potting soil for each plant and toss in a handful ( 1/4 cup ) of time released fertilizer. Then as your tomato plants grow use a liquid fertilizer that you can spray on the leaves as well as into the soil. When you plant your tomato bury it deep. Tomatoes are vines and will easily root all along the stem that is below the soil line.

Tomatoes need full sun, even here. If you do not give them full sun they will not be able to reach full growth in the short growing seasons we have.

Watering should be steady. Too much water and your tomatoes will split.

Tomatoes are the number one method to get nematodes in your garden. Check the roots when planting them and do not plant any with swollen roots or bumps on their roots. Nematodes are permanent.

Tomatoes are sell pollinating. The flowers close and each flower pollinates itself. Feel free to give your plants a little shake to help if it hasn’t been windy.

The Master Gardener’s Handbook recommends the following varieties: Bingo, Carnival, Heatwave, Celebrity, Merced, Sunmaster, and Cherry tomatoes Small Fry and Red Cherry.

I was happy with the Big Boys I planted this summer.

Problems you might have:
Fusarium wilt: The plant is slow growing and wilts. Leaves yellow then brown and there is no fruit. The only way to know for sure is to kill the plant and do an autopsy. If you slice up the stem you will see brown streaks. There is nothing you can do. Future plants planted in the same area will also be infected Try pots or a raised bed somewhere else.

Lack of nitrogen: Bottom leaves are yellow with green veins, grow is slow. New leaves are tiny. Fertilize.

Lack of potassium: Slow growth and small brown spots appear on the leaves. Leaf edges turn yellow and leaves curl down. Fertilize.

Leaf miner: White squiggles appear on the tomato leaves. Remove all leaves that are marked. Apply an appropriate pesticide.

White flies: Wiggle plant and lots of them will fly off. Try a yellow sticky trap out in the garden. There’s not much that works on these guys.

Horn worm: Man these guys are big and ugly! They are exactly the same color as your green tomato. The tomatoes look like some large critter has taken a bite out of them. I pull them off and kill them.

No tomatoes: Too much fertilizer, too little sun, temperatures at night below 50’F or above 70’F.

Tomatoes have cracks in skin: caused by uneven watering.

Blossom end rot: The tomato rots on the bottom, usually from too much water or too much fertilizer or from a lack of calcium in the soil. Add calcium chloride 4 tablespoons per gallon of water.

Brown spots on leaves after a rain: Ozone damage, when the rain comes from the southeast part of the city it may bring ozone with it.  The ozone damages tomatoes and peanut plants.  While it looks bad your tomatoes should be fine.

More information:
Houston Vegetable Garden Blog
Cover your tomatoes for healthier, prettier produce and longer growing seasons
Grow tomatoes upside down, Wired How to Wiki