Vegetable gardening in central Texas can have its challenges. You do everything right, then at just the WRONG moment Mother Nature comes in and throws a cog in your wheel. Ever so optimistic, I will plant tomatoes each year, and usually get a good crop, with occasional rainy years being the exception. So, let’s go over what it takes to grow tomatoes successfully in Central Texas – “Tomato Tips”!

  1. Timing: Plant as early as possible in Central Texas. Buy your transplants in February and transplant them to 1 gallon pots which you can move in and out according to the temperature. Tomatoes will not do well below 55 degrees, but can be set out in the sun during the warmer days until mid-March, when they can be planted directly into the garden.
  2. Pollination: Tomatoes are wind pollinated. Their pollen is non-viable when nighttime temps are above 72 degrees or below 55 degrees, and daytime temps are over 85 degrees. This is why we need to get our tomatoes started early.
  3. Determinate or Indeterminate?
    1. Since “determinate” tomatoes flower and produce fruit, grow to a determined height and then stop growing, they are good candidates for growing in pots. Staking will be minimal, and a large number of tomatoes will be produced at one time, which is good for those who can tomatoes, and for fall production of tomatoes where you want them to produce before the cold weather hits.
    2. “Indeterminate” tomatoes grow and produce flowers and fruit, grow more and produce more flowers and fruit and get quite large, requiring a sturdy tomato cage. These are mostly, but not all, the smaller tomatoes, and the harvest time will be spread out a bit longer than “determinate” types.
  4. Insects and Disease
    1. Once your tomatoes are growing well, and reach about 2 ½’ tall, begin removing the bottom leaves up about one foot from the ground. This goes a long way in preventing fungal spores from splashing up on the bottom leaves and infecting the plant.
    2. If you do find leaf spotting which looks like disease, trim them off and bring them to the nursery in a plastic bag for diagnosis.
    3. Spider mites can be prevented by spraying weekly with a liquid Seaweed solution. Be sure to get the undersides of the leaves.
    4. Rotate all members of the tomato family to a different area each year to avoid repeat of insects and diseases from last year. This family includes potatoes, peppers and eggplants.
    5. If leaf-footed bugs invade your garden, learn what the eggs and nymphs (babies) look like. They can be picked off and put in a can of soapy water or sprayed with a spinosad/soap solution. Once they mature, the best way to rid your tomatoes of them is to purchase a cordless handvac (some even work with your rechargeable drill batteries). Go out at night with a flashlight and vacuum them up! Dump them in a bucket of soapy water before they fly away! These are the insects which “sting” the fruit, leaving a tough whitish spot under the skin. You WILL want to control them.
    6. Blossom end rot is a physiological disease of tomatoes. It is often said to be caused by a calcium deficiency, and it is, but not because calcium is lacking in the soil. When soil moisture fluctuates from wet to dry, tiny hair roots die. Since the hair roots absorb much of the water and nutrients for the plant, uptake is compromised. The part of the plant furthest from the root system is the fruit, so when calcium is not transported to the end of the fruit, it shows calcium deficiency symptoms, which is blossom end rot.
    7. Tomato hornworms look like a giant green worm from outer space. They can consume an enormous amount of foliage overnight. Weekly sprays of Bt or Spinosad will help prevent damage.
    8. If your plants are stunted and have pale yellow foliage, you might have root knot nematodes. These microscopic organisms cause swelling on the roots of the plants. Planting a “catch crop” of Elbon Rye in the winter, or French Marigolds in the summer, then tilling it in will lessen the numbers of this pest.
    9. Cracks in tomatoes occur with fluctuations in soil moisture, rapid growth after fertilization or are just common in some varieties.
  5. Fertilization
    1. Organic fertilizers such as Happy Frog Jump Start with beneficial microorganisms may be incorporated at the time of planting. Happy Frog Tomato and Vegetable food should be applied monthly as a topdress, and weekly applications of Liquid Seaweed or Terra Tonic as a foliar spray will keep the nutrients available.
  6. Watering
    1. Avoid overhead watering if possible, as it contributes to conditions that are favorable to disease. Drip irrigation is recommended, and should be run long enough to percolate at least 8” each watering. Keeping the soil evenly moist will avoid many issues with tomatoes. Using a 2” layer of mulch will keep weeds down and keep the soil from drying out too much.