A tomato refresher

Eating a fresh tomato this summer starts with great planning right now. The winter off-season is the best time to refresh your knowledge on this staple garden crop and plan for the 2022 harvest! Here are some reminders and variety recommendations (below) that will help you put together your tomato growing plan.

Different growth habits

Tomatoes are often classified as determinate or indeterminate

Determinate tomato plants produce one large crop that ripens all at once.  They are favored by commercial growers that want to harvest most of the fruit from one picking.   Homeowners who want to can/preserve tomatoes may also decide to use determinate plants since they produce one large crop all at once.   Mature determinate plants are smaller than other types of tomatoes and can be planted closer together to get the most tomatoes from a small space. Determinate tomatoes should be supported with a cage or stake.  Celebrity is one example of a variety that is strongly determinate. 

Indeterminate plants are the traditional tomatoes many gardeners use and these vines never stop growing.  They are capable of producing fruit throughout the entire season unless disease stops production or until frost kills the plant.  They must have support as they can reach six feet tall or more when staked or caged.  Jet Star is a highly recommended indeterminate variety.

Gardeners with limited space will likely prefer indeterminate types to stretch out the harvest season over a longer period of time.  If there is space, you may want to grow a combination of both types with the determinate types used to produce a large harvest for canning or tomato juice and the remainder for fresh eating. 

Heat can affect production

Though both indeterminate and determinate plants are capable of producing fruit throughout the season, our hot Kansas summers often cause a dry spell in production of both types.  Tomatoes are less likely to set fruit when night temperatures remain above 75 degrees and day temperatures are above 95.  Hot, dry winds make the situation worse.  

Reduce leaf diseases as much as possible

Fungal leaf spot diseases are common every year on tomatoes

Leaf diseases like septoria leaf spot and early blight are a problem for us every year on tomatoes. It is important to hold these fungal diseases off as long as possible with proper cultural practices. These include:

  • not growing tomatoes in the same soil for multiple years in a row if possible,
  • not planting tomatoes too early (soil must be warm)
  • allowing proper spacing between plants for air movement
  • caging to keep plants up off the ground,
  • mulching (after the soil has warmed)
  • watering the plant at the soil level (avoid leaf wetness)
  • removing and disposing of the lower tomato limbs below the fruit level when they start to become heavily infected with disease.

Fungicides may also be used to help minimize tomato leaf diseases if applied as the label directs. For more information check out our tomato disease publication.

Fertilize carefully (with caution)

Tomatoes are great nutrient scavengers due to their fibrous roots system. If the soil is over fertilized tomatoes will grow a huge top with great looking foliage, but produce very little fruit. Applying a side-dressing of nitrogen one to two weeks before the first tomato ripens and again about two weeks after picking the first ripe tomato should be sufficient in most home garden soils. Examples of side-dressing fertilizers you can use include:

  • Ammonium sulfate (21-0-0). Apply one-half pound (1 cup) fertilizer per 30 feet of row.
  • Blood meal (12-1.5-6). Apply 14 ounces (1.75 cups) fertilizer per 30 feet of row.

Avoid herbicide applications near tomatoes

Tomatoes are notoriously sensitive to herbicides often used to control weeds in home landscapes or lawns. Be very cautious with herbicide applications anywhere near tomatoes.

Varieties

The most often recommended determinant variety is Celebrity.  This tomato has been included in K-State trials for many years and is almost always at the top of the list each time.  Jet Star is an older indeterminate variety that is always reliable and used as a comparison to ‘check’ other varieties against as well. These are both reliable varieties. A few other varieties we trialed last year in Salina that might be of interest to local gardeners are pictured below.

More popular tomato varieties for Kansas

VarietyDisease Resistance*Vine SizeFruit SizeComments
Garden Tomatoes    
Big BeefV1, F1,2 , N, TMVLargeLargeHybrid
Carolina GoldV, F1,2DeterminateLargeYellow
CelebrityV, F1,2, N, TMVMediumMediumHigh yield
Chef’s Choice OrangeV, FLargeVery largeGood flavor
Dixie RedV, F1,2,3Small-MediumLargeGood flavor
Florida91 V, F1,2MediumLargeSets in heat
Jet StarV, F1LargeLargeCrack resistant
Mt SpringV, F1,2Small-MediumMediumCrack resistant
Mt FreshV, F1,2MediumLargeCrack resistant
Primo RedV, F1,2SmallLargeLarge crop early
Scarlet RedV, F1,2MediumLargeHigh yield
Cherry Tomatoes    
Cherry GrandeVF1Medium1 oz 
Mountain BelleV, F1Medium1 oz 
SunSugarF, TMVLarge½ to ¾ ozYellow, very sweet
Sweet ChelseaV, F1,2, TMVLarge1 oz 
Paste/Roma    
RomaVF1,2Medium  
Plum DandyVF1, EBSmall-Medium  
Super MarzanoVF1,2, TMV, NLarge  
Heirloom    
Amana Orange LargeLargeOrange fruit
Black Krim LargeLargePartly black interior
Cherokee Purple LargeLarge 
Mortgage Lifter LargeLarge 

*Disease resistance: V = verticillium wilt; F = fusarium wilt races 1,2 or 3; TMV = tobacco mosaic virus; N = nematodes Most newer tomato varieties have a more compact vine with a uniform ripening genetic trait (fruit ripens uniformly from top to bottom), multiple disease resistance and a fairly meaty, firm fruit.