Ask The County Agent: ‘What kind of Tomatoes should I plant?’

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By Stephanie Butcher, Coweta County Extension Office

Question: “I’m going to plant a garden this year for the first time in years. What kind of tomatoes do you recommend planting?”

Agent: First, I’m going to give you fair warning. This is probably going to be a tough year for growing tomatoes, so don’t get discouraged if your plants don’t produce the beautiful bounty that you are hoping this time.

Tomatoes are susceptible to a lot of diseases and extremely wet or humid weather can really kick the diseases into overdrive. I usually get at least one or two calls a week about tomato problems during normal or wet growing seasons. A few years ago though when it was particularly dry, I actually made it through the entire growing season with only one “tomato call”. I couldn’t believe it. This is not shaping up to be that kind of year.

Even though it could be a tough year for gardeners, here are some tips that will help limit disease problems.

Select Disease Resistant Plants
Once infected, it is too late to stop most diseases from killing or limiting the production of the plant, so select disease resistant varieties. Look for varieties that have letters next to the name. This means the plants have a built-in resistance to disease. An example would be a popular variety referred to as the “‘Celebrity’ VFFNTA hybrid.”

The letters by the name tell you to which diseases that plant is resistant. “V” refers to Verticillium wilt; “F” is for Fusarium wilt; “FF” is for Fusarium wilt races 1 and 2; “N” is for nematodes; “T” is for tobacco mosaic virus; “A” is for Alternaria (early blight); and “TSWV” is for tomato spotted wilt virus.

Tomatoes are classified as determinate or indeterminate types. Determinate varieties produce fruit that ripens over a short period of time. Once the tomatoes have been harvested, the plants can be removed. These are most often used for canning. Indeterminate varieties produce fruit continually throughout the season.

Popular determinate hybrid varieties include ‘Bush Celebrity’ VFFNTA, ‘Bush Early Girl’ VFFNT, ‘Celebrity’ VFFNTA and ‘Mountain Spring’ VFF. Two newer, good-tasting, disease-resistant tomato varieties are ‘Red Bounty’ (determinate) and ‘Bella Rosa’, both of which are resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus.

Popular indeterminate hybrid varieties are ‘Early Girl’ VFF, ‘Better Boy’ VFN, ‘Big Boy’ and ‘Beefmaster’ VFN.

Popular cherry tomato varieties include ‘Jolly’, ‘Sweet Baby Girl’ and ‘Super Sweet 100’s’.

Use Good Cultivation Practices
Tomatoes like well-drained, high organic-matter soil with a pH between 6.2 and 6.8. Soil testing is important, so if you haven’t already soil tested, then don’t put it off any longer. It’s difficult to solve soil fertility problems after the plants are in the ground.
Make sure there is plenty of space between your plants to allow for good air flow. Tomato plants get very large, so plan for the mature size when planting them.

Tomatoes can get a condition called “blossom end rot” that turns the bottom of the tomato fruit black. It’s not a disease but is caused by a calcium deficiency in the fruit and is made worse when soil conditions fluctuate between wet and dry.

Adding dolomitic lime, which raises pH and contains calcium and magnesium, can help prevent this problem. If the garden soil pH is optimal but the calcium is low, apply gypsum at 1 pound per 100 square feet.

Mulching around tomato plants reduces soil moisture fluctuations and keeps weed pressure down. Layers of newspaper can be placed around plants, and mulch can be added on top to further prevent weeds. Pine straw, bark, leaves or wheat straw (not hay) are good options.

For more information about growing tomatoes or other fruits and vegetables, email [email protected] or call 770-254-2620. Ask for the UGA Extension publication, “Growing Homegrown Tomatoes” or ask for our other publications listing recommended varieties for your favorite home grown vegetable.

The University of Georgia College of Agricultural & Environmental Sciences is an equal opportunity, Affirmative Action, Veteran, Disability Institution.

Blossom End Rot. Photo by Brenda Kennedy, University of Kentucky.

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Top photo credit:  Tomatoes
 by UGA CAES/Extension.

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