Gardening 101: Planting tomatoes in early July

NORTH TEXAS (CBSDFW.COM) – Gardening is trying something new. The learning curve for a successful garden is steep (at least for me): some things work, some don’t. I have long heard the rumor that you can plant tomatoes in early July and harvest a fall crop. But that just didn’t make sense to me.

The few times I have tried SPRING tomatoes, I have seen the fruit appear on the plant in mid-spring and be ready for picking in mid-May. I would continue to have tomatoes until the daytime highs started to hit the mid 90s. Then the plant would stop flowering and production would cease. The plant would turn brown and fall off. Too hot for tomatoes until fall.

I’ve had some success cutting them back hard and letting them limp all summer. As soon as the first cool September weather rolls around, the plants will take off and I’ll have a HUGE harvest by Thanksgiving and the first frost. “Something to learn there” I thought to myself.

But planting a young, tender transplant in early July, just as we enter the hottest 60 days of the year? It just didn’t make sense to me. So I went to the nursery in Calloway and spoke to Jennifer Hatalski and got advice on how to proceed.

It all starts with a limited but proven range of specific varieties. You need to make sure you are planting the right ones. Through Texas A&M’s breeding program, a few tomato varieties have been released for this very purpose. You plant these heat-tolerant transplants the first week of July and tend them carefully through the heat of summer. It takes a tight regimen of watering, spraying and feeding to get them through the heat. But the reward comes in the fall when they suddenly bloom and fruit. They will provide a rather vigorous harvest until the first frost (sometimes it’s not until December if you live in the heart of the Metroplex). In field studies by Texas A&M, total plant yield was almost FOUR TIMES what the crop produced in the spring.

I will try for the first time. All these planting, watering and mulching cutaways from where me planting six tomato plants just after the 4th of July. I planted Celebrity, Sweet 100, Golden and Roma. I will continue to update this page with photos and comments as I go.

I would like to add two more growth indices not covered in the story (but at least one of them is shown). I would use tomato cages to keep your plants upright and easy to spray. I would also avoid the larger tomato varieties, the smaller ones do better here in North Texas. Trust me.

Terri S. Tomasini