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On the Town: Tomatoes 101

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

July 13, 2016

Tomatoes 101
Get expert tips for planting your fall crop this month

written by Joan McDonald

Believe it or not, it’s almost time to plant your fall tomatoes. Here in the Lowcountry, that task is best done the last week of July. And whether you have never grown your own or didn’t get the harvest you’d hoped for this summer, a planting primer might come in handy:

Select: Pick disease-resistant varieties appropriately sized for your space. (Click here for more disease info from Clemson Extension, including a list of disease resistance codes found on plant tags.) If you’re, say, planting a patio container, a determinate variety (which might be labeled with the abbreviation “DET”) is ideal, as it has a bush-like, more compact growth habit that only reaches a specific height. These tomatoes set their fruit at the end of the stem, and all will ripen at once. Indeterminate (abbreviated “IND” on tags) tomatoes produce on vining stems that will continue to fruit until frost.

Site: Tomatoes need at least six hours of full sun. They should be planted in well-draining, nutrient-rich soil with a pH of 6.0-6.5. Before planting, amend soil with compost.

Plant: Place tomato transplants into the soil deep enough that only the top three sets of leaves are exposed. This will help them grow well-rooted foundations.

Mulch: Cover soil with two to three inches of pine straw, leaves, or grass clippings to retain consistent moisture. Tomatoes do not like extreme moisture fluctuations.

Water: Use drip irrigation, as overhead methods not only waste water but increase chance of disease.

Trellis: Employ a tomato cage (the Ultomato can be dismantled for easy storage) to keep branches off the ground and encourage air circulation.

Feed: Following the package directions, apply an organic fertilizer such as Espoma Tomato-tone twice a month.

Harvest: Pick the fruit when it’s firm and vibrantly colored (whether red, yellow, orange, or another hue).

For a list of recommended tomato varieties, as well as directions on propagating a new plant from one you already have growing, click here.

For more gardening advice and inspiration, click here.