The taste of homegrown tomatoes is the reason many people begin a garden. In the United States, it is said that more gardeners grow tomatoes than any other vegetable. Entire books have been written about growing tomatoes, but these 10 tips will fast-track you to tomato-growing success. Wondering about how to grow tomatoes in Arizona, the low desert and other hot climates? Keep reading, there is plenty of information for you too!
10 Tips for Growing Tomatoes
Tip #1 for Growing Tomatoes: Choose a tomato variety suited for your tastebuds and climate
For the best chance of success, choose a type of tomato suited to your climate as well. Because of the heat of Arizona summers, we have a short growing season. Look for plants with a short (60-90) days to maturity. These are often types with small to medium fruit or Roma or paste varieties. Varieties highly recommended for desert climates like Arizona include Punta Banda, Celebrity, Pearson and Cherokee Purple.
Different climates have other considerations and growing conditions. Ask a local grower for varieties that do well in your area.
Tip #2 for Growing Tomatoes: Plant tomatoes at the correct time
To give tomato plants the best chance for success, plant tomatoes right after the last spring frost date. For the low desert of Arizona, this is usually around February 15th with a second planting window at the end of July. Once planted, if necessary, protect plants from cold nighttime temperatures.
Tomatoes grow best in temperatures of 70℉ to 90℉ with nighttime temperatures consistently above 55℉. In Arizona, you want tomatoes to flower and set fruit before it gets too hot. Once temperatures reach 100℉, tomato pollen is not viable. Fruit that has set will continue to mature, but new fruit will not set if pollen is not viable.
Tip #3 for Growing Tomatoes: Plant tomatoes in the right location
The most important requirement for productive tomatoes is plenty of sunshine. Give tomatoes full sun for the entire plant with adequate growing space around each plant for air circulation. Allow 2 feet between each plant for healthy and productive plants. Do not plant tomatoes in the same location year after year. Rotate the location to prevent build-up of disease in soil.
Tip #4 for Growing Tomatoes: Prepare soil correctly
Tomatoes prefer well-drained loam, which is a mix of sand, silt and clay. Good drainage is important as an area with standing or puddling water invites disease. Tomatoes need soil rich in organic matter; make a habit of amending your soil with compost. Prepare your soil correctly and your plants will thank you.
Tip #5 for Growing Tomatoes: Plant tomato seedlings deeply
Planting deeply encourages a more extensive root system and a healthier plant. Remove all leaves below the top leaves on the tomato transplant. Dig a shallow trench or deep hole (depending on depth of planting bed) and plant transplant so that only top leaves are above the ground. Roots will grow along the entire stem of the plant. Bear in mind that after planting the tomato, plants may appear to do nothing for a bit- but they are growing roots.
Tip #6 for Growing Tomatoes: Mulch tomato plants well
Use straw or pine needles to reduce evaporation and insulate the soil from extreme hot and cold temperatures; soil will stay at a more even temperature. Mulching helps control weeds, and plants will not have to compete with weeds for water and nutrients. Most mulch ultimately becomes fertilizer as it decomposes into the soil around the plant.
Tip #7 for Growing Tomatoes: Water tomato plants correctly
Water early in the day to prevent excessive evaporation. It’s best to water at the soil level so leaves do not get wet. Wet leaves encourage disease. Water to a depth of 6-8 inches to encourage roots to grow deep in the soil to find nutrients and moisture. Deep, extensive roots help plants withstand dry spells. Water regularly as needed, but do not allow plants to become soggy as plant roots need oxygen.
Tip #8 for Growing Tomatoes: Feed tomato plants
Tomatoes do best with regular feeding from organic sources of fertilizer with a balanced supply of nitrogen, phosphorus, and potassium. When planting, it’s important to provide a source of phosphorus (bone meal or rock phosphorus) and again as plants begin to bloom and produce fruit. Without proper fertilization, plants do not produce well and are prone to weeds (which invite pests and other diseases).
Tip #9 for Growing Tomatoes: Provide support for growing tomato plants
It’s important to encourage tomatoes to grow vertically. Growing tomatoes vertically keeps the plant upright, and prevents the stems from breaking from heavy fruit or wind. Trellising tomatoes also keeps the leaves off the ground which helps reduce diseases. Fruit is easier to harvest when it is off the ground as well.
Tip #10 for Growing Tomatoes: Provide shade for tomato plants in extreme climates like Arizona
Your plants may need a little help to get through a long, hot summer in the low desert of Arizona. Shade can reduce the air temperature for tomatoes by several degrees, and it also extends the growing season. Providing shade in desert climates helps reduce stress on tomato plants, and can prevent sunscald on ripening tomatoes. Shaded tomato plants are more likely to survive the extreme heat of the desert, and may perform better when cooler temperatures return in the fall.