How to Grow Great Tomatoes - University of Maryland Extension

Q&A on Growing Tomatoes
Univ. of MD. Extension
Kent Phillips Howard County MG
[email protected]
Questions & Answers
about Growing Tomatoes
Q: What are simple tips for growing
tomatoes for home use?
• Do a soil test and follow recommendations
• Choose sunny location, min. 8 to10 hrs. more is
• Choose varieties meeting your needs
• Consider spacing & staking/caging
• Don’t over-fertilize, consider slow release organic eg.
Soybean meal
• Insure 1-inch water per week (2-4 gallons per plant
depending on size)
Q: How do I choose good plants?
• Look for short, stocky plants with dark-green leaves
• Avoid plants that evidence disease (yellow leaves) or
• Check label for resistance to diseases & pests (VFN…)
and whether variety is determinate or indeterminate
• Shop when new plants have arrived, often just
before the weekend
Q: What do “determinate” and
“indeterminate” mean?
• Determinate (aka “short”) varieties grow to
the pre-determined height of the cultivar.
They tend to produce fruit over a shorter time
period and then die. They are great for
people that process/can or freeze their fruit.
Do NOT prune determinate varieties.
• Indeterminate (aka “tall”) varieties produce
fruit throughout the season, until frost kills
the plant. Fruit set in early September will
normally ripen before frost.
Q: What do the abbreviations after variety
names mean?
Celebrity Hybrid VFFNTASt
Resistance to
V = Verticillium Wilt
F = Fusarium Wilt
FF = Races 1 & 2
FFF = Races 1, 2, & 3
N = Nematodes
T = Tobacco Mosaic Virus
A = Alternaria Stem Canker
St = Stemphylium Gray Leaf Spot
TSWV = Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Code list from Totally Tomatoes 2013 catalog, p. 11
Q: Should I plant only heirlooms or only
A: Planting both can be insurance against
disease or pest problems. Heirlooms usually
don’t have any disease resistance.
Sharon G.: “A great crop of reasonably tasty
hybrids is better than a small, or no, crop of
exceptionally tasty heirlooms.”
Q: Should I fertilize my plants as they
• Depends on your soil. If you have good soil
with lots of organic matter worked into it, you
probably won’t need additional nitrogen. If
you haven’t improved your soil, you may need
additional nitrogen.
• Too much nitrogen: One of the two major
reasons of “too many vines, too few
tomatoes.” Other reason: Too little direct
sunlight. May contribute to blossom-end rot.
Q: Do specialty fertilizers, such as
“Tomatoes Alive,” do any good?
• The simple answer is that you can get the same
results with cheap 10-10-10 or an organic fertilizer
and a bag of lime. “Tomatoes Alive” price: $34.95
for 7 lbs, which “feeds 49 plants.”
• 10-10-10 costs $16.48, and 40 lbs. of pulverized
lime costs $4.77, for total of $21.25. This would
take care of over 500 plants.
• Of course, you plants wouldn’t know the
Q: When should I transplant?
A: When soil temperature reaches 55 to 60
• Here, usually mid-May to 1st week of June
• Use of plastic mulch will warm soil
• If planted early, plants may grow slowly & be subject to insect
& disease attacks
• Early fruit will have blossom end rot (BER)
• But choice plant varieties may not be available then at
retailers, so buy & hold or start your own seed 5 week prior to
plant out date.
More transplanting tips …
• Cloudy, wind-free day – or late afternoon
• Dig holes in improved soil & mix in an once of
10-10-10 fertilizer, a handful of lime, and
water in with transplant solution
• Remove leaves except top 2-3 inches
• If plants are leggy, bend plants in an L, set in a
trench with two sets of leaves showing above
the soil line. Protect from harsh weather with
row cover.
Q: Should I stake, cage, or trellis my plants
or let them sprawl?
A: Rationale for staking: Maximizes
production from limited space; limits diseases
and critter access; gives better access to fruit;
old back doesn’t need to bend as often. Be
sure to pinch suckers.
A. Kent P.: “If you let your tomato plants
sprawl, make sure you have some sort of dry
mulch under them to keep the fruit from
Stake them* …
Aylene G.
Barbara W.
*Indeterminate varieties may require more support
Cage them …
Ron N.
Bob N.
Trellis them …
Pat G. & her Costoluto Genovese
Q: How can I make cages out of heavyduty reinforcement mesh?
A: Detailed online how-to article with photo
Q: Why and how should I prune my
A: “Suckers are shoots that arise from axils,
the angle where a plant stem and leaf branch
meet. These shoots will eventually produce
flowers and fruit. Prune lower suckers out up
to about 12 to 18 inches above the soil line.
Caged or prostrate tomatoes need not be
pruned. Produces maximum fruit.
Pruning, p. 2
A: “Prune staked tomatoes to one to three
main stems (plant spacing can be reduced in
these situations). Remove all other suckers
weekly. It is especially important to remove
suckers that emerge from the plant base.
Pinch shoots off with your fingers”—from
“Master Gardener Handbook,” Chapter 17,
Vegetables, p. 436.
Pruning will hasten ripening.
Pruning, p. 3
A: Also prune to control indeterminate/tall
vines and to remove spent/dead stems/leaves
HGIC video about tomatoes and pruning:
Click on “Growing Vegetables” and “Tomatoes”
Q: How can I keep critters from eating my
“Fence them in to control most critters.
Squirrels can be especially difficult to control. If birds
are a problem, nylon netting can be draped over
plants to protect them.
Various visual or sound ‘frightening’ techniques,
such as loud noises, lights, and bright reflective
objects, can also be very effective. Animals can
become accustomed to them over time....
Critters (p. 2)
“University of Maryland Master Gardener
Handbook” (2012 ed.),” Chapter 28, Wildlife,
p. 585
Chapter 28 covers other “nuisance animals,” from pigeons &
woodpeckers through deer, rabbits, & squirrels, to
groundhogs & snakes
HGIC 1-800-342-2507 9 am – 1 pm
Stink-bug damage to Virginia Sweets tomatoes
Q: How can I keep stink bugs from
destroying my tomatoes?
A: University of Maryland Extension research
reports: BMSB activity increases when fruit
begins to ripen. Bugs may move into patch
during day. Damage ranged to 48%. Pesticide
test results.
“Stop BMSB” cooperative site:
Q: Stink bugs, p. 2
• Grow prostrate tomatoes. Stink bugs prefer
high places
• Hand-pick stink bugs
• Combination of insecticidal soap, pyrethrum
and Surround may be effective
• Plant resistant varieties (Juliet & other smallfruited?), and
• Pick fruit at “breaker” stage.
What is picking at “breaker stage”?
Posting includes link to original Kansas State University document
Q: What are the spots on the lower leaves
of my tomatoes and what should I do?
• Research at HG 56, “IPM Series: Tomatoes”
• If it’s Early Blight, a fungal disease: select resistant
varieties; remove all debris at end of season;
increase spacing of plants; prune lower
suckers/leaves; mulch; use a fungicide.
Q How can I recognize tomato diseases,
such as Late Blight? If my plants get such
diseases, is the situation hopeless and I
should destroy them?
• Best source: “IPM Series: Tomatoes,” HG 56
and/or call Home & Garden Information
• Late Blight may be hopeless, but many other
diseases aren’t. Identify the problem and
then do what needs to be done.
Information about diseases:
IPM Series: Tomatoes (HG 56)
Page 6
Q: How do I find resistant varieties?
• Internet search: “early blight resistant tomato
• At
type “Early Blight” in Find, choose “In Description,”
and then choose “Tomatoes” in “Crop.”
• Result: Mountain Magic Hybrid, Juliet Hybrid, Legend
OP, Matina heirloom, JTO-99197 Hybrid, Plum Regal
Q: My tomato plants died after yielding
fruit—what happened?
A: Plants may have been determinate variety
and completed life cycle
A: Disease may have caused die-back
Q: What are the black spots on the bottom
of my tomatoes, and what can I do to cure
Blossom-End Rot is caused by
calcium or water deficiency in soil
Blossom-End Rot, p. 2
• Establish pH of 6.3 to 6.8 & calcium as per soil test*
• Generally this early-season problem “naturally goes away” later in
• Add tablespoon of pulverized lime to planting hole;
• Mulch to conserve moisture
• Don’t over-fertilize
• Drip irrigate deeply 1 to 4 gallons/plant per week
• Remove affected fruit as soon as possible; and
• Research proposed “cures.”
*Test your garden soil every 3 to 5 years. Call or email the Home
& Garden Information Center, and they will tell you how to do it
and where to get your soil analyzed.
Q: Does Epsom salt stop blossom-end rot?
Popular Internet site: “Because blossom- end
rot is a symptom of a calcium deficiency in the
plant, Epsom salts, which supply calcium, can
be part of the solution.”
Book: “Adding Epsom salts to the soil before
you plant will prevent blossom-end rot.”
Q: Epsom salt (p. 2)
A: Jon Traunfeld: “This is one of the big
gardening myths. There is no calcium in
Epsom salts. It’s magnesium sulfate. If
anything, the Mg cations could compete with
Ca cations for uptake by plant roots making
blossom-end rot even worse….
Tomato varieties recommended by
University of Maryland Extension
TOMATOES (* = hybrid variety)
Red: Better Boy*, Big Beef*, Big Boy*, Bucks
County, Celebrity*, Delicious, Early Girl*, First
Prize, Fourth of July, Jet Star*, Mortgage
Lifter, Park’s Whopper*, Paul Robeson, Red
Pear, Rutgers, Stupice, Supersonic*,
Supersteak, Tomosa
Pink/purple: Brandywine, Cherokee Purple,
German Johnson, Giant Belgian, Pruden’s
Yellow: Banana Legs, Golden Boy, Green Zebra,
Kellogg’s Breakfast, Lemon Boy, Sungold,
Yellow Pear
Publication HG 70
UME/HGIC recommendations, p. 2
Bi- or tri-colored: Big Rainbow, Georgia Steak,
Mammoth German Gold, Pineapple,
Paste: Amish Paste, Roma, San Marzano, San Remo,
Super Italian, Viva Italia*
Cherry: Gardener’s Delight, Sweet Chelsea, Sun
Cherry, Sungold, Sweet 100*,
Sweet Cherry,
Sweet Million*
Grape: Golden Sweet*, Juliet*, Red Candy, Santa*,
Solid Gold, Smarty*
HGIC recommendations for containers
Celebrity Hybrid (VFFNTASt) (3-4’ tall)
Patio Hybrid (FASt) (24” tall)
Pixie Hybrid (Burpee discontinued)
Sweet Chelsea Hybrid (VFNT) (Indeterminate)
Tiny Tim (18” tall)
Totem Hybrid (10-12” tall)
Tumbling Tom (red or yellow) (cascades 18”)
Rutgers University 5-year test
of 145 heirloom varieties
• Large: Cherokee Purple, Mortgage Lifter, Hawaiian
Pineapple, Pruden’s Purple
• Medium: Eva Purple Ball, Arkansas Traveler, Box Car
Willie, Lemon Boy, Costoluto Genovese, Ramapo,
Brandywine Red, Green Zebra
• Cherry: Snow White, Isis Candy, Yellow Pear
Carroll County Master Gardener
heirloom favorites (2011 survey)
Aunt Ruby’s German Green
Pink Brandywine
Yellow Pear
Black Krim
Cherokee Purple
Green Zebra
Amish Paste
Pink Brandywine (Sudduth’s Strain)
Master Gardener favorites (2013)
Carroll & Howard counties survey
1. Brandywine
2. Sungold Hybrid
3. Black Krim
4. Big Boy, Green
Zebra, Mr. Stripey,
Roma, Sweet 100
Hybrid (tie)
Master Gardener favorites (2013)
Carroll & Howard counties survey
5. Big Mama, Beefmaster,
Black Plum, Campari,
Celebrity, Cherokee
Purple, Delicious, Early
Girl, Garden Peach,
Lemon Boy, Marglobe,
Pineapple, Rutgers,
Yellow Jubilee, Yellow
Perfection (tie)
Kent Phillips with Big Mamas
Where did you buy tomato seeds?
(2013 survey)
1. Totally Tomatoes
2. Johnny’s Selected
Seeds, R.H.
Shumway’s, “saved
seeds” (tie)
Where did you buy seeds? (cont.)
1 each: Baker Creek,
Burpee, Cook’s Garden,
Fedco, “freezer,”
Heritage Harvest, Home
Depot, Hudson Valley
Seed Library, Jung,
Landreth, Meyer,
Monticello, Park, Seeds
of Change, Territorial, &
Where did you buy transplants?
1. Home Depot
2. Clark’s Ace Hardware,
Lowe’s, Southern
States (tie)
3. Frank’s Produce
Market, “gift” (tie)
Where did you buy transplants? (cont.)
1 each: Annual Training
Day, Behnke, Country
Nursery, DeBaggio’s
Herb Farm, Sharp’s at
Waterford Farm
What is your favorite seed catalog?
1. Burpee (38 tomato
varieties), Totally
Tomatoes (294) (tie)
3. R.H. Shumway’s (43)
4. Baker Creek Heirloom,
Jung, Landreth,
Pepperjoe, Seeds of
Change, Vermont
Bean, & Victory (tie)
Q: What’s a safe source about canning
tomatoes safely?
National Center for Home Food Preservation
Free online factsheets, including “Canning Tomatoes &Tomato
Recommended book, “So Easy to Preserve,” covers canning,
freezing, drying, 375 pages, 185 tested recipes, $18. New
demonstration DVDs based on book, $39.95
Canning varieties often mentioned on
Roma (D*)
Rutgers (D)
Amish Paste (I*)
Opalka (I)
Brandywine (I)
*D = Determinate/short
I = Indeterminate/tall
Home & Garden Information Center
1-800-342-2507 (8 am to 1 pm,
Monday thru Friday)
HGIC/GIEI Internet resources
• Grow It Eat It web site:
Free publications, videos, & other resources
• Grow It Eat It blog:
– and click on
“Grow it Eat It” blog on right side of page
• Grow It Eat It on Facebook:
Search: “Grow It Eat It”
Resource: University of Maryland
Master Gardener Handbook
Chapter 17, Vegetables
Library: R Md. 635M
May your harvest this season
be as good as this…
Tomatoes by Kent Phillips, MG
This program was brought to you by
Maryland Master Garden Program
Howard County
University of Maryland Extension

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