Gardening with Laurie: It's time to plant your fall tomatoes

By Laurie Garretson
July 26, 2012 at 2:26 a.m.

Here we are in the middle of summer; mosquitoes are horrible, the temperatures and humidity are both in the 90s, or more, and it's time to plant your fall tomatoes. That's right, if you want fall tomatoes, they have to have enough time to grow, flower and produce before the days get shorter and we have our first frost.

On average, not that there's anything average about our weather anymore, we can have our first frost during the first couple of weeks in December. Keep in mind that tomatoes can take anywhere from two to three months to ripen.

The usual dilemma for us gardeners is that many of the tomatoes grown in the fall are determinate varieties. This means the plant only grows to a certain size, usually about 3 to 4 feet, flowers and produces all within a short period of time.

Determinate types only produce one crop, and then they are finished. So, if you plant too early and temperatures are still too high, your plant won't set fruit. And then it's finished.

On the other hand, if you plant too late, the days will get shorter, the temperatures will start cooling down, and we could possibly have a frost. In other words, your plants won't have time for the fruits to mature. That's when you have fried green tomatoes.

Basically, all this means is that we have to take young, tender little transplants and plant them in a sunny location during the hottest time of the year and keep them alive and healthy until the temperatures cool down. Many years, we have the right conditions to grow great fall tomatoes, but you just never know what Mother Nature has in store for the season.

All tomato varieties can produce fall tomatoes, but gardeners usually try to plant fall varieties that produce in a shorter time period. I suggest planting several types of tomatoes. If we happen to have another mild fall and winter, you will have a longer time for some of the longer producing varieties to produce, instead of having only one variety that will produce all at once.

When planting, always have some Rocket Fuel root starter, along with some organic fertilizer in the bottom of the hole to sit the transplant on. This stuff will help get all plants off to a terrific start. Rocket Fuel helps alleviate transplant shock and really stimulates stronger root systems, which then produces stronger, healthier plants.

Once planted in a well-drained soil in a southern exposure location, it will help to find a way to shade the plants from the afternoon sun, until the plants get better established. Keeping well watered and mulched, plus providing relief from the afternoon sun, can really help fall plants grow. As the weather cools off, you can expose the plants to full sun.

With this milder summer we've been having, many gardeners still have spring tomatoes growing. If you have a spring tomato plant that looks pretty good, there's no reason it can't produce fall tomatoes. Get your clippers out and cut the plant back enough to "shape it up." Feed it and replenish the mulch around it. Spring plants are already established and better able to handle the heat. Give it a try.

Until next time, let's try to garden with nature, not against it, and maybe all our weeds will become wildflowers.

Laurie Garretson is a Victoria gardener and nursery owner. Send your gardening questions to or in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77902.



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