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Get ready: It’s tomato planning time

Thursday, February 9, 2017

By Joyce Karsnak

OSU Ext. master gardener volunteer

Now that the fresh-picked taste of a tender backyard tomato has been replaced by their winter placeholders – the hard and tasteless ones – it is time to make your choices for the coming planting season.

So many to choose from: heirlooms, slicers, paste, grape and cherry varieties in colors of yellows, orange, pinks and reds from the brightest to the darkest maroon chocolate. Flavorful, juicy, meaty tomatoes – are you ready to plan?

Whether you browse seed catalogs or the internet, it’s easy to be overwhelmed with all the choices, but it’s a tempting and economical way to try new varieties.

Tomatoes are easy seeds to sprout and grow in a south-facing window. But you may decide to let your local greenhouse grow plants for you. Even then, some basic knowledge and decisions made beforehand can help make your tomato harvest bountiful.

Always important is location. Where do you plant: in the ground or in a pot? Do you plant in the same place every year? Is the sun still shining on your garden or have neighboring trees gotten taller and shaded the spot?

Tomatoes should have a daily minimum of eight hours of sun. It’s recommended to minimize disease issues to rotate your tomatoes if possible. That means not planting them in the same spot as you did last year, but it also means they should not be moved to a spot where you grew peppers, eggplant or potatoes in the same nightshade family as tomatoes.

Unfortunately, that recommendation basically covers all of my garden but the zucchini and lettuce patch. If that’s a problem for you, too, think about mingling tomatoes in the flower bed or perhaps try container plantings.

If you grow in containers, choose tomato varieties designated as “bush” or “compact” for best results. Putting a giant Beefsteak or an heirloom cherry tomato that wants to grow six foot high with a four foot spread in a container is just not a good idea. (Yes, most little tomatoes grow on big plants.)

Use a deep pot at a minimum of 14” diameter and a loose potting mix labeled for larger pots that won’t compress; in other words, not too much peat moss. Plan to locate the pots where they can be easily watered daily – sometimes twice daily.

Indeterminate and determinate are terms that are indicators of the plant size and yield.

Indeterminate means the plant will continue to bloom and set fruit until either the temperature is too cold or daylight wanes. It’s the most common kind of tomato transplants you’ll find at the greenhouse. It also indicates that the plant will continue to increase in size to accommodate the fruit production. These are best grown in the ground.

Determinate means the plant grows to a certain size and the fruit will ripen within a several-week period. These are the types described as “bush.” My favorite is a Burpee hybrid called “Super Tasty” and is recommended for containers, but it grows to a manageable size and is staked in my garden year after year.

Include the words “university extension” in your internet research of tomato selections and tips for successful growing. You’ll even find reports on their research of trial plantings. This time of year is the time to do the research and choose the best seeds and the best varieties for your garden.

Here’s a great article about tomatoes to try in your garden: http://go.osu.edu/tomatoestotry.