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February Food Garden: Time to Plant Tomatoes!

It’s the third week of February and we’re getting in our first round of spring Tomatoes! No, it’s not too early. There is a reason we bring in our first crop at this time.

Heirloom tomatoes

While tomatoes are a tropical plant and need warmth to thrive, they don’t respond well to the extreme heat we experience here in Texas. Because our summers get so hot, so fast, we have two tomato growing seasons; spring and fall. The trick to a good harvest on your spring-planted tomatoes is to get them fruiting before the onset of hot temperatures. Basically, it’s a bit of a race. The earlier you can plant them, but still protect them from cold, the better.

Here in the Dallas area your spring-planted tomatoes can be planted outdoors between late-February and late-March. You really should stop planting 4” transplants by April 1st. In Dallas, the optimal planting time is right about March 15th, or a bit earlier. If you plant on the earlier side, be sure to keep some frost cloth on hand to protect plants during cold spells.

A fully ripened tomato

Tomato

Many gardeners make the mistake of waiting to plant spring tomatoes until they think there will be no more frost in sight. Waiting that long in our area usually results in the disappointment of little to no fruit production.

Your spring planted tomatoes should start producing harvestable fruit in late May through June and early July depending on the type and variety. Cherry tomatoes typically begin ripening first then, Roma type and then slicers.

Remember that fruit set and development in tomatoes is driven by temperature. Once our day/night average temperature is above 85° F, tomatoes typically won’t set fruit. That’s why there is a benefit to planting them early, so that they begin flowering and setting fruit while temperatures are still in the proper range. The high night temperatures we start experiencing in June are what typically shut fruit production down.

Poor fruit set can also be a result of poor watering and plants being too dry.  So be sure to keep plants consistently moist.  Topdress with 2″ of mulch to conserve soil moisture. To encourage better fruit set you can use Blossom Set, which is a natural plant hormone that helps fruit set even in less than desirable conditions. There are some heat-tolerant varieties that will perform better in hotter temperatures. Ask our Garden Advisors to show you our heat-tolerant varieties.

Fruit ripening is also a factor of temperature: The ideal temperature range for ripening is 68-77° F degrees. Colder or hotter than that, and fruit will often sit green on the vine.

Espoma Tomato ToneBe sure to pick up one of our outstanding organic fertilizers for tomatoes: NHG Organic Herb & Veggie FoodNHG Herb & Veggie Food or Espoma Tomato Tone are must haves. Fertilize at planting time, and then again bi-weekly once plants set fruit. Set tomato cages on plants as soon as they go in the ground and grab a roll of our Velcro Plant Ties.

Check out our Tomato Planting Project List!

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