Who doesn’t love good homegrown tomatoes? Whether you use them to make salsa, tomato sauce, or just slice them up for a burger, homegrown tomatoes are a real treat, and are definitely the undisputed queen of the veggie garden.
It may seem early, but the time to start thinking about growing tomatoes is now. One of the most important aspects of successful tomato growing in Texas is the timing of planting. Getting this right is critical to ensuring your plants have a healthy start. Plant too early, and a late frost can wipe your young “maters” out. Wait too late, and your plants don’t establish before the heat sets in and you won’t get any tomatoes. Trust me, there is nothing worse than watering and tending tomato plants for months only to get skunked! I want to pass along a trick or two to help hedge your bet a little on this timing thing.
The Secret to Great Tomato Plants is an Early Start
Okay, here’s how we can turn the odds in our favor. First, go to your favorite garden center or hardware store and buy some tomato starter plants. Many garden centers are selling tomato plants at this time to accommodate the early birds, so you shouldn’t have a hard time finding them. Most stores sell tomatoes in a 4″ pot, which I think is a great size. Next, when you get home with your plants, you want to pot them “up” in a larger container. The containers should be at least one gallon in size and need to have drainage holes. Tomato plants are a little different than other plants because they can produce roots along their stems. When you pot them, bury them extra deep on the stem to help your plants develop a great root system. Make sure you use a good potting soil that drains well.
After potting your tomato plants, keep an eye on the weather for the following few weeks. Keep your plants outdoors in a sunny spot on warm days. On days when the temperatures will be at or below 35 degrees, the plants must be protected – bring them inside the house or garage. After it warms up, the tomatoes can go back outside.
Tomato plants will only need water about twice a week once they’re potted in the larger container. You just don’t want the soil to dry out. I would also recommend fertilizing with a liquid feed once a week or using a slow-release granular fertilizer instead. It wouldn’t be a bad idea to train the main stem to a simple stake as your plants grow. By following these steps, and playing the “in-and-out game” when the weather gets dicey, you will be jump-starting your plants’ growth and giving them a real leg up in the growing season!
Later in spring, when you are confident that all danger of frost has passed (usually at the end of March or beginning of April), you can transfer the tomato plants into your garden. By the time you get the tomatoes in the ground, they will be nice, big, robust plants with several weeks of growth under their belts. Be sure to put a tomato cage for support around the large plants soon after transferring them.
Tomato growing in Texas isn’t easy. There is a lot of effort it takes to see them thrive. Following these steps will really help get your plants off to a great start and help get you a larger, earlier harvest. With a little extra work and some luck, you’ll be making salsa in no time. Good luck in the garden and happy planting!