Tomato Time

Who doesn’t love a ripe red tomato on a bacon, lettuce, tomato sandwich with a glass of cold iced tea? South Mississippi has the perfect weather to grow tomatoes into the fall!

  The first step to fall tomatoes is to get your plants into the ground from July to mid-August for an October or November yield. 

  The cooler temperatures in fall generally produce large, attractive fruit, and bugs are disappearing (this is great because tomatoes attract many insects). If you planted tomatoes in the spring, then you can actually do a second planting with some fresh fall tomato plants. Make sure you harvest any tomatoes left on the first plants. 

  When planting for fall tomatoes, there are many varieties to choose from that are heat-tolerant and do well into the fall months: Red Grape, Oregon Spring, Yellow Sun Gold, Amelia, Yellow Sun Sugar, Little Porter, Red Globe, Roma, Celebrity and Creole tomatoes.

  Most tomato plants require full sun. So, hopefully, your spring plants were in the sun, and you can just remove those plants that have stopped producing and start again. The new plants should be planted a couple of inches deeper (the deeper the better) under the plant where it emerges from the soil, and be sure to add mulch on top of the soil. 

  Tomatoes like moist soil, so hand water them if they do not get two inches of rainfall a week. Always water in the morning. Again, be sure to set tomato transplants deeper than they were growing in the plant bed, peat cup, or plastic tray.

  Wooden stakes work well for support as all tomato plants must be grown off ground to prevent rotting. Wire cages can also be used. Make sure these are at least 18” in diameter to allow for growth. 

  Tomato plants form many branches (suckers) as they grow. It is a common practice to break the suckers out of the plants to encourage larger and earlier fruit and make the plant easier to tie and spray.

  To keep your tomatoes healthy, be sure and add organic compost and a granular fertilizer recommended by your garden center when you plant. Depending on the needs of your plants, once they start to grow, you might begin a regular fertilization regimen every other week or so. When you buy your new tomato plants, you might want to go ahead and purchase your stakes, fertilizer, and insect control, too. 

  Tomatoes can have many insect problems. If an insect attack occurs, go to your nearest nursery or garden center and ask for advice. Hope you have a beautiful crop of tomatoes this fall! Happy gardening!

  Gaye Winter, Ph.D., teaches English at Mississippi Gulf Coast Community College and is a member of Biloxi Garden Club.
Reach her at gaye.winter@mgccc.edu.

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