With these 80-degree daytime temperatures, I hope you’re inspired to start planting your spring and summer garden. I already have six different varieties of tomatoes in their beds. My nasturtium groundcover has literally turned my hillside garden into an ocean of green, with blooms popping up amongst 5-inch-round leaves, thanks to all that rain! Other bloomers—including fruit trees—are brightening the greenery.
Since the first sturdy tomato seedling varieties appeared at local nurseries, I’ve been planting my “usual suspects” that I grow every year—Sungold, Celebrity, Early Girl, Ace, Cherokee Purple, Black Krim, Brandywine; I’ll add Green Zebra, Stupice, Dona, Carmello and Green Grape as I find them.
I’ll also add new ones to see how they do. I usually give varieties that are new to me at least three chances—if they do well for 3 years, they’ll perhaps replace one of my “usuals”. In the meantime, there’s a lot of good eating!
I always purchase two plants of each variety, and plant them in separate holes, because sometimes one doesn’t survive, and I want to make sure I get some of each of those fruits. So far, one Pink Brandywine and one Early Girl have given up, so I’ll purchase stronger plants.
Tomatomania is always an excellent source of many, many varieties (some locations offer more than 200!), and tomato experts on hand to help you decide. See Tomatomania.com/events for upcoming locations in your locale. I’ll be at Tapia Brothers on March 19, and Descanso Gardens on March 25.
Because tomatoes are heavy feeders and drinkers, I recommend these steps in planting:
- Incorporate manure and compost into the entire growing bed (tomato roots can extend 4 feet to the side and down).
- Provide soaker hoses or drip irrigation or buried 5-gallon buckets with bottom holes. Keep soil evenly moist – like a wrung-out sponge – for the entire growth period. When plants are fully developed during hot weather, this may require an inch of water per day, depending on your soil type.
- Provide sturdy trellises to corral extensive foliage and support fruit for the full life of the plant. “Determinant” varieties will grow to 3 or 4 feet tall so one trellis will usually suffice. “Indeterminant” varieties may extend to 8 or 10 feet high, so I stack a second trellis on top of the first one. In addition, I stake one corner of my trellises both with uprights and between plants for support while growing and during our Santa Ana winds in fall when the plants are huge and full of fruit. I’ve done this ever since the year that the winds blew down my whole row of plants following my deep watering.
- Dig holes and turn soil a full hand trowel deep and around – about 6-8 inches.
- Roughen up the plant’s rootball to “inspire” or “threaten” the plant to develop new vigorous roots. If the container-grown media is very loose, like peatmoss or vermiculite, shake most of it into the hole to mix with the dirt to create a more moisture-holding mixture.
- Remove any leaves along the stem, leaving only the topmost 3 leaves.
- Place the plant rootball at the bottom of the hole, and hold the stem upright by its top 3 leaves. Gather the soil back around the stem, and fill the hole so only the top 3 leaves are showing.Roots will develop all along the stem for a stronger plant. However, be aware that tomatoes are the only plants that do this, so use this deep-planting technique only for tomatoes.
- Arrange remaining soil into a short berm about 4 inches away from the stem and foliage. This will be its initial watering hole to direct water down to the rootzone.
- Water the plant in well, filling the hole three times as the water disappears into the soil. Then, also water the area around each plant to a distance of another foot or two. You want that entire surrounding area to be well-irrigated so roots will want to extend out there, providing more nutrition and moisture for the growing plant.
For more advice and insight from Yvonne Savio, please visit GardeningInLA.net.
Yvonne Savio grew up and still lives on a 3/4-acre hillside city lot in Pasadena, growing fruits, vegetables, and flowers year-round in manure- and compost-amended gardens. From years of gardening, she knows what “harvested at the perfect moment of ripeness” means and is passionate about enabling others to enjoy the benefits of “growing your own.”
Yvonne earned degrees in journalism, English literature, art and photography from California State University at Los Angeles and Sacramento; her horticulture degree is from American River College, Sacramento. For 15 years, she worked in the Botany and Vegetable Crops Cooperative Extension Departments at the University of California, Davis, where she conferred with Statewide Vegetable Specialists regarding cultural and postharvest handling techniques. In the early 1980s she helped initiate and develop the Master Gardener Program in Yolo County. From 1994-2015, she managed the Los Angeles County Master Gardener Program, teaching 1,183 volunteers who then helped 1.3 million residents to garden more sustainably.
Yvonne maintains demonstration and trial gardens in Southern and Northern California, specializing in drought-tolerant techniques for growing vegetables, fruits, perennials, roses, and succulents. She documents the creative fun stuff of repurposed tools and garden art. She loves chatting with gardening groups; for more of her presentation topics. see GardeningInLA.net/speaking.
Sungold tomatoes by Dwight Sipler from Stow, MA, USA (Sun Gold Tomatoes Uploaded by Jacopo Werther) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.
Green Zebra tomato by Cliff Hutson [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons.