o many Texans, gardening means growing tomatoes. Growing
tomatoes in the backyard can be a fascinating and rewarding
venture or it can be a very frustrating one.
A sickly tomato plant which produces few, if any, fruit certainly
doesn't boost anyone's gardening enthusiasm. For home
owners growing tomatoes for the first time, some simple advice
might help avoid common pitfalls.
First, home gardeners should not grow tomatoes unless the
plants can be placed in an area that receives sunlight for at
least six hours a day. Tomato plants placed between tall shrubs,
under trees, or between buildings simply will not produce
Second, good soil is essential for good growth and high yields.
Often, poor soil can be improved with liberal amounts of organic
matter and by proper fertilization. A dark, heavy clay or
even a fine sand can be improved by working 3 to 4 inches of
decomposed organic matter into the soil where the tomatoes
are to be planted.
If only a few tomato plants are to be grown, a space at least 2
feet square should be prepared for each plant. The soil should
be worked to a depth of at least 12 inches. Raised beds work
well. Liberal amounts of organic matter and a small amount of
fertilizer, such as 10-20-10 or 12-24-12, should be mixed into
the soil where the plant is to be grown.
Variety selection is of utmost importance and is one of the
keys to growing tomatoes successfully. Select varieties that
resist many of the common diseases. Look for VFN after a
variety name; this indicates that it has resistance to verticillium
wilt, fusarium wilt, and nematodes.
'Big Boy', 'Champion' (a good warm-weather producer), or the
small-fruited 'Sweet 100' are top producers in my experience. The new varieties 'Donna', 'First Lady', and 'Viva Italia' (a paste
type) also show promise. Other old-time favorites exist and
may also perform well.
Plants can be started at home, although at this time in the
season it is best to purchase transplants at local nurseries. When
buying plants, the home gardener should look for healthy,
vigorous transplants. When the transplants are set in the garden,
use a starter solution to assure adequate fertility during
the early stages of growth. Starter solutions can be purchased
at local garden centers, or they can be made by mixing one
tablespoon of a complete garden fertilizer in a gallon of water.
About one cup of the starter solution should be applied in the
planting hole prior to planting.
For best results, the transplants should be set in the garden on
cloudy days or late in the afternoon. The plants should be
protected from adverse conditions such as high winds or cold
temperatures for a week or so after transplanting. Cages,
wrapped in row-cover fabric, can be used to control temperatures
for a week or so after transplanting. Covering the plants
with milk cartons also works well.
Almost all tomato varieties should be staked, trellised, or caged
for best results. Any method is good if it keeps the fruit off the
ground. Fruits allowed to contact the soil often develop fruit
rot. People who would like to grow tomatoes but lack the
space should try growing them in a five-gallon container.
'Better Bush' is a short, stocky variety well adapted to container