Most gardeners would agree that tomatoes are the most popular crop for home growing. But what gardeners can’t agree on is what tomato is considered “the best, since taste is such a personal matter.
The diversity of cultivars available makes it easy for anyone to grow tomatoes even if all you have is a pot on the patio. The Burpee Seed Company introduced the first F1 hybrid tomato ‘Big Boy’ in 1949. Since then, plant breeders have introduced thousands of hybrid tomatoes. Modern hybrids bring disease resistance, cold tolerance, nematode resistance, and hybrid vigor as well as a dazzling range of colors, shapes, and sizes.
There are several ways to classify the wide array of tomatoes that are so popular among gardeners today. First, you can group them by fruit size and shape. From small to large, there are: currant, cherry/grape, salad/cocktail, plum, pear, standard slicing, and beefsteak types.
Second, you can group tomatoes by the amount of time it takes for the plants to mature fruit for harvest. Seed packets will list the expected length of time to maturity in number of days, but in general, cultivars are classified as: early, midseason, or late-maturing. Early cultivars take 55 to 65 days from transplanting to the garden. Midseason is considered to be 66 to 80 days. Late types are those that need more than 80 days from transplanting.
Third, you can group tomatoes by the plant’s growth habit: determinate or indeterminate. Determinate plants tend to grow their foliage first, then set flowers that mature into fruit if pollination is successful. All of the fruit tend to ripen on a plant at about the same time. Indeterminate tomatoes start out by growing some foliage, then continue to produce foliage and flowers throughout the gardening season. These plants will tend to have tomato fruit in different stages of maturity at any given time once they start to set fruit.
More recent developments in tomato breeding have led to a wider array of fruit colors. In addition to the standard red ripe color, tomatoes can be creamy white, lime green, pink, yellow, golden, orange, purple, or nearly black. The pink and yellowish types have mistakenly been referred to as low-acid tomatoes, but in fact, these types are just higher in sugar, which makes them taste less acidic.
Whichever cultivars you choose to grow, note that all tomatoes are warm-season crops, meaning you should wait until after the date of average last frost in your area before you plant them. Usually, that is mid- to late April in southern Indiana and early to mid-May in northern Indiana. Figure 1 shows the average last date of a light frost (36 °F) throughout Indiana.
But soil temperature is just as important. Tomatoes thrive best when soil temperature is at least 60 °F – and soil temperatures are well below that mark so far this spring. Because this year has been slow to warm up, gardeners will need extra patience!
- Tomatoes are Ripe and Ready for Summer
- Determinate or Indeterminate
- Hybrid or Heirloom
- Labels and Looks
- Watching and Waiting
- About the Author
- Planting Time For Tomatoes: Best Time For Planting Tomatoes
- Best Planting Time for Tomatoes
- When is it Too Late to Plant Tomatoes?
- Larry Asked
- The Gardener’s Answer
- Georgia Homegrown Tomatoes
- Growing Tomatoes
- Suggested Tomato Varieties
- Problems and Pests
Tomatoes are Ripe and Ready for Summer
What compares to the sweet, juicy taste of that first ripe tomato plucked from the vine? It seems to take forever for those little beauties to ripen, but when they do, mouths water in anticipation of this delicious garden morsel.
There are many things to consider when choosing which tomato varieties to grow, though where you grow them doesn’t matter. A standard vegetable garden, a special place in a flowerbed or in containers on a patio require the same care. You might choose to start your tomatoes from seed, which would require planting six weeks before the last frost date in your area. Many forego that notion and purchase their plants from a garden center and transplant them into the ground.
SEE MORE: Farm Facts: Tomatoes
But how do you choose from the myriad varieties? Much depends on what you want to do with your tomatoes. Do you want to eat them fresh on sandwiches or in salads, or do you plan to can them for sauces and salsas? Some varieties are best used for slicing, while more meaty types have fewer seeds, ideal for sauces. Whatever your desire, it’s best to decide what you want before you shop.
Determinate or Indeterminate
Determinate varieties only grow to a certain height, don’t require staking, produce their crops, then are finished. These are best for small gardens. Indeterminate varieties will grow continually until frost takes them down, so they require staking. They have a long season and will produce a large volume of fruit.
Hybrid or Heirloom
Does it really matter? Hybrid plants are combinations of two different varieties, bred selectively for their best attributes, such as taste. Examples of hybrid tomatoes include Early Girl and Celebrity.
Heirlooms, on the other hand, have been passed down through several generations of a family based on characteristics, meaning they’re genetically unique. Cherokee Purple and Brandywine are two types of heirloom tomatoes.
Labels and Looks
You’ll also want to select varieties that are disease resistant. Keep in mind, that is not a guarantee that it’s resistant. On garden shop labels, following the name of the variety, you may see letters such as V (Verticulum wilt), F (Fusarium wilt), N (nematode) or T (tobacco mosaic virus). These labels indicate which varieties are resistant to these conditions.
Tomato plants should be short and stocky-looking with dark green leaves and no blossoms. It takes time for plants to recover from transplant and assume healthy growth. Potted plants in blossom are most likely root bound and stressed. For greater success, choose the right plants in larger pots.
Food and water are necessities of life. Tomatoes need at least 1 inch of water per week. A balanced fertilizer such as 12-12-12 works best when first planted, but once the plant is established, use a tomato-specific fertilizer that’s higher in phosphorus and potassium.
Watching and Waiting
Once they’re planted, it’s just the issue of waiting until they ripen. It’s fun to watch them grow, so make taking a walk in your garden a daily exercise. You’ll see the blooms appear and the fruit develop – and even more important, you can keep an eye out for garden pests, such as the tomato hornworm. This fierce-looking eating machine can consume a whole plant in a couple of days. You’ll first notice missing leaves, then stems, so you need to stop them in their tracks. I usually clip off the offending pest and commit “insecticide” with a firmly planted foot. However, if this muncher is covered with little white cocoons, let it be. It has been parasitized by braconid wasps, which will cause the hornworm to cease to be a pest. The wasp is considered a biological control for several other garden pests.
You’ve waited so long and have given such tender care and attention to your tomato plants, and it’s time to enjoy the fruits of your labor. For the absolute best flavor, harvest your tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. There’s just nothing like that first juicy bite!
Enjoy your homegrown ‘maters in any of these tasty recipes:
Shaved Country Ham Bruschetta
Italian Tomato Salad
Fresh Ricotta Tomato Salad
Open-Faced Bacon, Tomato and Basil Sandwiches
Fried Green Tomatoes
Fresh Tomato Soup
About the Author
Deborah Ashby, a resident of Putnam County, is a Silver Level Advanced Master Gardener and member of the Hendricks County Master Gardener Association. In addition to her passion for gardening, she also owns Premier Imaging, premierimaging.biz, a home-based photography and digital printing business.
Planting Time For Tomatoes: Best Time For Planting Tomatoes
Many people often wonder what is the best time for planting tomatoes. The planting time for tomatoes depends on where you live and your weather conditions, but there are a few guidelines that can help you with tomato planting times for your area. Keep reading to learn more about the answer to the question, “When should I plant tomatoes?”
Best Planting Time for Tomatoes
The first thing to understand about when to plant tomatoes is that tomatoes are warm weather plants. While many people try to plant tomatoes as early as possible, the fact of the matter is that this method will not make an earlier producing tomato and also exposes the tomato plant to unexpected late frosts, which could kill the plant. Beyond this, tomatoes will not grow in temperatures below 50 F. (10 C.).
The first sign that it is the proper planting time for tomatoes is when the night time temperature stays consistently above 50 F./10 C. Tomato plants will not set fruit until the night time temperature reaches 55 F./10 C., so planting tomato plants when the night time temperature is at 50 F./10 C. will give them enough time to mature a bit before fruiting.
The second sign for knowing when do you plant tomatoes is the temperature of the soil. Ideally, the soil temperature for the best time for planting tomatoes is 60 F. (16 C.). A quick and easy way to tell if the soil is warm enough for planting tomato plants is to thrust a finger in the soil. If you cannot keep your finger all the way in the soil for a full minute without feeling uncomfortable, the soil is most likely too cold for planting tomatoes. Of course, a soil thermometer helps too.
When is it Too Late to Plant Tomatoes?
While knowing the planting time for tomatoes is helpful, many people also wonder how late can I plant tomatoes and still get a crop. The answer to this varies depending on the variety of tomato you have.
The key to the question of, “Is it too late to plant tomatoes?” is the days to maturity. When you buy a tomato plant, on the label there will be a days to maturity (or harvest) listed. This is approximately how long the plant will need before it can start producing tomatoes. Determine the first frost date for your area. As long as the number of days to maturity is smaller than the number of days until expected first frost date, you can still plant your tomatoes.
In general, most tomato varieties need 100 days to fully mature, but there are many very good tomato varieties that only need 50-60 days to mature. If you are planting tomato plants late in the season, look for tomato varieties with shorter days to maturity.
When is the best time to start tomato plants from seed, so they’ll be ready to set out Derby week?
The Gardener’s Answer
Hello, Larry: Starting tomato seed indoors is a great way to get a head start on enjoying your crop. The average frost-free date for our area is May 10. Ideally it is best to wait a couple of weeks after this date has passed to set out tomatoes. Of course, this is just an average so watch the weather and if the nighttime temperatures are consistently in the 50s it is safe to transplant the seedlings into the garden. You do not want to start your tomato seeds indoors any earlier than six to eight weeks before the frost-free date, so the third week in March would be the earliest opportunity to plant your seeds. Potting up your seeds the first week of April will ensure that you are able to transplant them outdoors two weeks after our frost-free date has passed. When the time arrives, to start the seeds choose a container that has sufficient drainage holes and fill with a peat/perlite/vermiculite potting soil. Pro-Mix makes a good seed starting mix. The seeds should be planted 1/4 inch deep and 1-1/2 inches apart. Water well and keep the soil consistently moist. It should never be sopping wet since this can rot the seeds but do not allow the soil to completely dry out either. The seeds should germinate within five to 10 days. Once the seeds have germinated, make sure to place them in a south-facing window or use fluorescent bulbs to provide adequate light. Ideally the indoor temperature should be no lower than 70 degrees F. As the seedlings grow and the roots develop, they will eventually need to be transplanted into larger containers. Choose the healthiest seedlings and dispose of those that are not going to make it. When the time comes to transplant them into the garden, it is best to gradually acclimate them to this environment. Place the containers in a dappled light situation for the first couple of days and move them slowly into the full sun where they should be planted. This will reduce transplant shock and improve chances of a healthy tomato plant.
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Georgia Homegrown Tomatoes
Bulletin 1271 View PDF picture_as_pdf
Robert R. Westerfield1
- Growing Tomatoes
- Suggested Tomato Varieties
- Problems and Pests
It would be hard to imagine any home garden that did not have at least a few tomato plants. Tomatoes are considered by many to be the most prized vegetable in the garden. There is also plenty of discussion among fellow gardeners as to the best varieties and method of growing each type. This publication will discuss the basics of growing tomatoes successfully, as well as avoiding common problems encountered by the home gardener.
Tomato plants can be started indoors from seed four to seven weeks before they are to be planted. Transplants can also be purchased from a garden center, ready to plant immediately. If starting your own plants from seed, use a light soil mix and give the plants plenty of light. You may need to use supplemental light if a south-facing sunny window is not available for growing. About a week before transplanting, harden-off indoor grown plants by gradually exposing them to an increasing number of hours of light each day.
Tomato plants can be set out in the garden in mid-March to early May after any danger of frost has passed. Some southern areas of Georgia can also produce a second crop of tomatoes when planted in late July.
Tomatoes are warm-season plants that grow best at temperatures of 70 degrees to 80 degrees F and require six to eight hours of sunlight. Choose a sunny location that receives at least eight hours of sunlight each day.
Tomatoes prefer soil that is well-drained and amended heavily with organic matter. Rotted manures, compost, rotted sawdust or other humus can be tilled into the garden site as soon as the soils can be worked in the spring.
Tomatoes require a soil with a pH in the range of 6.2 to 6.8. The pH is the general measurement of acidity in the soil. Soil testing through your local county extension office is the best way to determine the pH. If the pH of the soil is too low, add dolomitic limestone according to the soil recommendations. In the absence of a soil test, apply lime at the rate of 5 pounds per 100 square feet of area. Add lime several months before planting to allow time for it to react with the soil. Till or spade the lime into the soil. Dolomitic limestone also provides calcium and magnesium, which are important elements for the growth and health of the plants. If the pH test comes back normal, but the calcium level is low, apply gypsum at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet.
Select only healthy transplants for planting in the garden. Tomatoes can develop roots all along their stems so plant them deeply to encourage a strong root system. Set the transplants down to the first set of true leaves near the soil surface. If transplants are in peat pots, it is not necessary to remove the container, but be sure to plant them deep enough so the pot is not exposed to the soil surface, causing the root ball to dry out. Firm the soil around the plants to force out any air pockets.
Give tomatoes a light amount of fertilizer at planting time. This can be accomplished by using a starter solution of fertilizer. Pour about 1 pint of starter solution (2 tablespoons of 5-10-10 or 5-10-5 fertilizer dissolved in 1 gallon of water) around each plant.
If plants are to be staked or trellised, space them 24 inches apart in rows 4 to 6 feet apart. Although it requires more work initially, staking makes caring for tomatoes easier and keeps the plant’s leaves from contacting the ground and possibly introducing disease. This in turn produces higher quality fruit.
Staking can be done using commercially available cages or by using 6-foot tall, 1-inch square wooden stakes. Drive wooden stakes into the ground about 1 foot deep and 4 to 6 inches from the transplants. Heavy twine or strips of cloth can be used to tie the plants to the stake about every 10 inches vertically as the plants grow. Tomatoes can also be supported by training them to trellises or using a weaving system of cord and stakes.
Tomatoes will benefit from mulch placed around their stems. Mulching should be done soon after transplanting. A material such as weed-free straw, chopped leaves or compost can make an excellent mulch and will help conserve moisture and reduce weed growth. Apply mulch to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Newspaper can also be used as an effective mulch. Lay the newspaper about three sheets thick around plants to act as a weed barrier and to conserve moisture. Then place an organic mulch on top of the paper.
Synthetic weed barrier rolls are also available and can be very effective in reducing weed problems and conserving moisture. They work best when laid down over beds prior to planting transplants. Small slits can then be made in the material to allow for planting of the transplants. Soil or small stakes may be needed on the edge of the material to secure it during windy conditions.
Tomatoes are medium feeders and will require fertilizer beyond the initial starter solution. It’s best to soil test through your local county extension office to find out the actual requirements for your soil. In the absence of a soil test, incorporate 1.5 pounds of 10-10-10 fertilizer for 100 square feet of bed prior to planting. Use a complete fertilizer that contains minor nutrients. After the first tomatoes form on the vine and are about the size of a quarter, side-dress them with 10-10-10 at the rate of 1 pound per 100 square feet of bed. Repeat every three to four weeks until harvest is completed.
If a liquid soluble fertilizer solution is used, be careful not to apply too much or too frequently as this can lead to excess nitrogen. This is a common problem causing vigorous vegetative shoot growth but few blooms or fruit.
Tomatoes need about 1 to 2 inches of water per week depending on the type of soil they are growing in. If rainfall does not provide this quantity, water plants thoroughly once or twice per week. One or two heavy soakings are better than many light sprinklings.
Consider using drip irrigation or soaker hoses around your plants. These methods will help conserve moisture and avoid getting the foliage wet which can cause disease. Hoses can be laid near each plant above the soil but under the mulch layer.
Harvesting and Handling
For best quality, harvest tomatoes when they are fully ripened on the vine. If harvested before they are ripe, but after they reach the mature green stage, tomatoes can be allowed to ripen in the home.
Place unripe mature green or pink fruit in a room with a temperature of around 70 degrees F. Fruit should be well-ventilated and not jammed together.
Fully ripened fruit may be placed in the refrigerator to prolong keeping, but never put unripened tomatoes in the refrigerator. Tomatoes can last several weeks under refrigeration.
Tomato Variety Selection
When it comes to tomato varieties, the sky is the limit. They come in a large assortment of shapes, sizes and colors. While it is fun to experiment with the new and exotic tomato varieties, this publication will focus on tried and true varieties for our state. Regardless of which plants you choose, you will need to be familiar with some terminology to make the right choices.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Determinate tomato varieties grow in a more compact bush form and produce most of their crop at one time. You can harvest all of the fruit in two to five pickings and then pull up the plants. Determinate varieties often produce an early crop, so you will want to plant successive plantings in order to harvest tomatoes over an extended period of time with this type of tomato. Determinate plants are often the choice of the gardener who wants a large supply of ripe fruit at once for canning.
Indeterminate varieties set fruit clusters along a vine stem that continues to grow all season. They will continue to produce fruit, if harvested, throughout the season until first frost. Bush varieties do best when staked or grown in cages, but vine types must be given support.
Because tomatoes are susceptible to diseases, viruses and insects, some varieties have been bred or hybridized to be resistant to certain pests. Resistance to these pests is usually listed on the plant label using the following abbreviations:
V = Verticillium Wilt
F = Fusarium Wilt
FF = Fusarium Wilt race 1 and 2
N = Nematode
T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus
A = Alternaria (Early Blight)
TSW = Tomato Spotted Wilt
Remember that resistance to these problems does not mean they are completely immune, and good cultural practices are still important.
AAS = All-America Selection
OP =Open pollinated
Suggested Tomato Varieties
Bush Celebrity VFFNTA Hybrid — A more compact version of the ever-popular Celebrity that takes less garden space while retaining the same fruit size and excellent flavor of the original variety. 67 days.
Bush Early Girl VFFNT Hybrid — “Little sister” to Early Girl, this variety is more compact and can produce large yields on much smaller plants. Compact – 54 days.
BHN 444 VFF1TSW Hybrid — Sometimes marketed as Southern Star. Excellent quality and size in a perfectly smooth, globe-shaped red tomato. What is most significant to some gardeners is that this variety is resistant to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. Not as flavorable as older varieties. 75days.
BHN 640 VFFFTSW Hybrid — This variety takes all the good qualities of BHN 444 and adds tolerance to a third race of fusarium wilt while keeping the very important resistance to Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus. 75 days.
Celebrity VFFNTA Hybrid — A 1984 ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER. Flavorful, firm 8 to 12 ounce fruit on strong vines with outstanding disease resistance. 70 days.
Mountain Fresh VF Hybrid — Unusually large and tasty tomatoes with a flavor that has been rated superior. 76 days.
Mountain Spring VFF Hybrid — Beautiful tomatoes are 8 to 10 ounces, bright red throughout, and resistant to cracking and blossom-end rot. 72 days.
Rutgers VFA — Terrific flavor and productivity. For many years, this was a favorite for canning because of its abundance, juiciness and deep red color through and through. Not as resistant as some newer varieties. 75 days.
Amelia Hybrid VF123NStTSW — Very resistant to major tomato problems including Tomato Spotted Wilt virus. Vigorous plant with good leaf canopy has yielded large to extra large fruit. Not as flavorsome as older varieties. 75 days.
Mountain Pride Hybrid to F1F2VASCSt — Disease-resistant. Medium to large deep red, oblate fruits average 7 ounces. 77 days.
Early Girl VFF Hybrid — Comes in first as an early slicing tomato. Disease resistance is good, contributing to its excellent performance in almost any climate. 52 days.
Better Boy VFN Hybrid — Rugged vines produce large crops of bright red, 12 to 16 ounce smooth, flavorful fruit. 75 days.
Big Beef VFFNTA Hybrid — 1994 ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER. One of the finest hybrids for home gardeners. 73 days.
Big Boy Hybrid — A long time favorite because of its very large, smooth scarlet fruit with meaty flesh and great flavor. 78 days.
Beefmaster VFN Hybrid — A favorite for the solid, meaty, flavorful red fruit that weighs up to 2 pounds. 80 days.
Jolly Hybrid — ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER for 2001. Abundant clusters of 1½ ounce pink fruit that is delicious, juicy, and sweet. 70 to 75 days.
Sweet Baby Girl Hybrid — Dark red fruit has great, sweet flavor and grows in long clusters. Resistant to tobacco mosaic virus. 65 days.
Super Sweet 100 Hybrid — Huge, multiple-branched clusters of ½ inch very sweet fruit with high vitamin C content. 65 days.
Grape Tomato — Long, grape-like clusters of brilliant red elongated cherry tomatoes have earned this variety its name. 60 days.
Juliet Hybrid — ALL-AMERICA SELECTIONS WINNER for 1999. Long, beautiful clusters of elongated small tomatoes on vigorous vines. The 1-ounce fruit is about twice the size of a grape tomato, but is shaped like a grape or elongated plum with a different taste and texture. 60 days.
Problems and Pests
Disease and Insects
Although tomatoes are fairly tolerant of insect damage, they will occasionally have trouble from some common garden pests. Whiteflies, hornworms, aphids, leafminers, stinkbugs, loopers, cutworms and mole crickets (south Georgia) have been known to cause problems on tomatoes.
Insecticidal soap and Bt (Bacillus turingiensis) are used by many organic gardeners with fair success. Repeated applications and scouting for pests frequently are necessary for continued control. A general purpose garden insecticide applied according to label directions will control most of these pests. Use care, however, when spraying because these pesticides will also kill many of the beneficial insects that are protecting your garden naturally.
Diseases and viruses on tomatoes can be a real problem for the home gardener. For detailed information on tomato diseases, please refer to a separate publication available from your local county extension office. Cultural practices discussed earlier in this publication, and improved variety selection, will go a long way in preventing disease problems. It makes more sense to maintain a healthy plant and prevent disease problems, than to rely on spraying multiple chemicals for control.
Early blight on tomato plant leaves. Blossom-end rot on tomatoes.
Blossom-end rot can be a serious problem with tomatoes. The main symptom is a dark, sunken water-soaked area at the blossom end of the fruit. This physiological disorder is associated with a low concentration of calcium in the fruit. Blossom-end rot is also induced more often when there is drought stress followed by excessive soil moisture; these fluctuations reduce uptake and movement of available calcium.
To manage blossom-end rot:
- Maintain the soil pH between 6.2 to 6.8 and supply adequate levels of calcium through applications of dolimitic limestone or gypsum.
- Avoid drought stress and extreme moisture fluctuations by using mulch and deep, timely irrigation once or twice a week.
- Avoid overfertilizing plants with high ammoniacal nitrogen fertilizers. Excessive nitrogen can depress the uptake of calcium.
- Foliar applications of calcium with products such as Blossom End Rot Stop, are only short term fixes and often work poorly because of poor absorption and movement to the fruit area where it is needed.
Status and Revision History
Published on Apr 06, 2009
Published with Full Review on Apr 05, 2012
Published with Full Review on Apr 21, 2015
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