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(Super Sweet 100)

Annual / Vegetable


  Planting Zones:

Zones A1-A3, 1-45, H1, H2


Full - Partial




The tomato is an Andean native. Easy to grow and prolific, tomatoes are just about the most widely grown of all garden plants, edible or otherwise. Amateur and commercial growers have varying ideas about how best to raise them. If you’ve developed a successful method, continue to follow it. But if you’re a novice or are dissatisfied with previous attempts, you may find the following information useful.


Choose varieties suited to your climate that will yield the kind of crop you like on plants you can handle. Some varieties are determinate, others indeterminate. Determinate types are bushier, need little or no staking or trellising. Indeterminate ones are more vine-like, need more training, and generally bear over a longer period. (Though the plant sprawls and is incapable of climbing, you’ll often see it referred to as a vine.)


Plant in a sunny site in well-drained soil. Tomato plants prefer neutral to slightly acid soil; add lime to very acid soil or sulfur to alkaline soil the autumn before setting out plants. Space plants 1 1/2—3 ft. apart (staked or trained) to 3—4 ft. apart (untrained).

Make planting holes extra deep and set in seedlings so lowest leaves are just above soil level. Additional roots will form on buried stem and provide a stronger root system.

If you live in an area where summers are cool or short, or if you want to get an early start, take steps to speed growth and protect tomatoes from frost. A combination of plastic mulch and floating row covers is probably most effective. Individual plants can be protected with paper or plastic caps known as hot caps (some have water-filled cylinders that trap heat effectively to provide maximum protection).

Tomato management and harvest will be most satisfying if you train plants to keep them off the ground as much as possible. Untrained plants will sprawl, and some fruit will lie on soil, where it often suffers from rot, pest damage, and discoloration. For training indeterminate varieties, the usual practice is to drive a 6-ft.-long stake (at least 1 by 1 in.) into ground a foot from each plant. Use soft ties to hold the plant to the stake as it grows. Slightly easier in the long run—but more work at planting time—is to grow each plant in a wire cylinder made of concrete reinforcing screen (6-in. mesh). The screen is 7 ft. wide, which is just right for cylinder height. Put stakes at opposite sides of cylinder and tie cylinder firmly to them. As the vine grows, poke protruding branches back inside the cylinder.

Tomato plants need regular moisture at root level; they are deep rooted, so water heavily each time you water. If soil is fairly rich you won’t need to fertilize at all. In ordinary soils, feed lightly every 2 weeks from the time first blossoms set until the end of harvest; or give a single application of controlled-release fertilizer when planting.

Whiteflies are common pests of tomato plants. Large green caterpillars with diagonal white stripes that feed upside down on leaf undersides are hornworms; handpick them. In Hawaii, wrap developing fruit clusters in paper or cloth bags to protect from melon flies. Tomatoes are subject to a long list of diseases, some common only in certain regions. Your Cooperative Extension Office is the best source of control measures for most tomato diseases. If plants are growing strongly, then suddenly wilt and die, they may have been sabotaged by gophers. If you can find no evidence of these rodents, plants probably are suffering from verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, or both; pull them out and discard them. Diseases live over in soil, so plant in a different location every year and try varieties resistant to wilt or certain other diseases (see introduction to Tomato varieties, below).

In Pacific Northwest, lessen chance of late blight (which spots leaves and stems, rots fruit) by avoiding overhead sprinkling. Blight declines as weather warms; destroy plant debris after harvest.

Some tomato problems—leaf roll, blossom-end rot, cracked fruit—are physiological and can usually be corrected (or prevented) by maintaining uniform soil moisture. Mulching will help conserve moisture in very hot or dry climates.

If you have done everything right and your tomatoes fail to set fruit in the spring, use hormone spray on blossoms. Tomatoes often fail to set fruit when night temperatures drop below 55°F/13°C. In chilly-night areas, select cold-tolerant varieties (especially small-fruited strains). Fruit-setting hormone often speeds up bearing in the earlier part of the season. Tomatoes can also fail to set fruit when temperatures rise above 100°F/38°C, but hormones are not effective under those conditions.

Harvest fruit when it is fully colored up and juicy; keep ripe fruit picked to extend season. When frost is predicted, harvest all fruit, both green and partly ripe. Store in a dry place away from direct sunlight at 60° to 70°F/16° to 21°C; check often for ripening.

(Sunset Garden)


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