Plant Fall Tomatoes NOW

July 14, 2007

Plant of the Week

David Rodriguez

Sunpride tomatoNow that the three year drought is somewhat over and we finally can see the sun again, especially after all that record breaking rain, it’s time to start thinking about the fall vegetable garden. The best fall performer that is planted earliest is tomatoes and now would be the time.

There may be some small spring tomatoes hanging on to the plant, but, unless you have at least 20 to 25 good-sized fruit, pull them out-make green tomato relish, chow-chow or salsa. If you will recall, the largest and best tomatoes you had this spring were the first ones produced. If the tomato plant has gotten old, diseased, and damaged by insects-it will never produce in abundance again. Besides, it’s too large to be manageable as far as insect and disease populations are concerned. Pull the old plants up and discard them. Give them to the garbage man. Don’t try to compost insect and disease-ridden plants. Spider mites don’t compost well!

If you have the space, it’s best to move the tomato plant around the garden. There is some disease prevention value in crop rotation. It is, however, more important that the plants receive full sun (at least six-to-eight hours) than a new location. Incorporate two inches of manure compost into the planting area and spread one pound of slow release 19-5-9 analysis fertilizer over every 10 linear feet of planting area.

Plant a Texas Cooperative Extension recommended variety of tomato every three-to-four feet. Tomato cages keep the plants in control and keep the fruit off the ground. Fruit rot and even insect damage is reduced if the tomatoes are caged. Most retail nurseries offer aluminum cages (use the largest 54″ size) or, if you are really ambitious, you can make cages out of concrete Remix reinforcing wire. A cage two and one-half feet in diameter would require a piece of reinforcing wire eight feet long.

Mulch the newly planted tomatoes to a depth of two inches. Native cedar or hardwood mulch is highly desirable and available because they spread easily and decompose at a moderate rate. The decomposing is slow enough to protect the tomato roots but fast enough that they can be incorporated into the garden soil after the tomato season without long nutrient tie-up.

Tomatoes are not drought tolerant plants; they need an ample supply of supplemental irrigation. Using mulch and drip irrigation is the most efficient way to do it. Water when the soil under the mulch dries to one-half inch. Tomatoes are also heavy feeders. A half cup of slow release
19-5-9 analysis fertilizer every 10 to 14 days per plant works well for around three applications. This is also called side-dressing or banning of fertilizer.

The best fall tomato for Central/South Texas is Surefire. It tolerates the heat well to produce an early tennis ball-size fruit. But, unfortunately it’s almost impossible to find. Consider other heat setting tomatoes like the 2007 Texas SuperStar tomato ‘Sunpride’ and other proven winners like ‘Celebrity,’ ‘Sun Master,’ ‘444,’ ‘Amelia,’ ‘Solarfire,’ and ‘Top Gun’ also do well. Remember, all fall recommended tomatoes are also planted for spring planting. For a complete list of other fall recommended vegetables and planting dates, please visit this link at:

Remember, Learn and Have Fun!

David Rodriguez is County Extension Agent-Horticulture, Bexar County. For more information, call the Master Gardener ‘Hotline’ at (210) 467-6575 or visit our County Extension website at, click under Horticulture and Gardening.

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