Know your tomato personalities


Maybe I like to grow tomatoes because they are so quirky. Maybe its because I can grow whatever weird kind of tomato I’d like to eat rather than pick from those limited options at the grocery store. I pulled some delicious red ones off the vine this morning and sliced them to go onto toast. Life can’t get much better than that.

This is the time of year when the most common questions I get asked are about tomatoes. We all love to grow tomatoes, but they do have their “personality traits.” If we keep them happy, we get to enjoy tomatoes for weeks and weeks with only a short stroll out to the patio or garden.

Your tomatoes are hopefully in a location that gets full sun for about eight hours a day. They love good, well-draining soil and organic matter or natural fertilizer. If you grow tomatoes from seed, no doubt, you have started weeks ago and have transferred them to outdoor soil. Tomato seedlings that you have grown or bought should be sturdy and green and pest free if you peek under the leaves. Little seedlings with yellow or brown leaves or with flowers already showing may be stressed, so don’t take those babies home.

Fertilize tomato seedlings with an organic fertilizer like 5-5-5 when you plant the seedlings and again when the little flowers start to appear. The pros say to plant tomatoes deep and a little on their sides. Remove lower stems and branches when planting.

You should water at the base of the plant when the soil is a bit dry to the touch. They want regular water but not soggy soil or constantly wet leaves. Mulch is a good idea here with our super heat. Some summer tomatoes may need water every day when temperatures soar.

There are different broad categories of tomatoes: Determinate tomatoes stop growing around 3 feet and are bushy. Indeterminate tomatoes don’t stop growing and can get rather large as they produce suckers from the main stem of the plant. There are also semi-determinate tomatoes that, as you may guess, combine the two growing habits.

To pinch or not to pinch: I’ve always been taught to pinch out suckers or the leafy shoots that grow from V sections in the tomato plants. I also prune off the top tiny bit of a tomato plant. Some gardeners just let ‘em grow and sprawl along, which seems to work for them if their garden if relatively pest-free.

The Texas A&M Aggie Horticulture website can help you with any tomato ‘“problems.” I searched why some tomatoes have split skins. The Aggies say that is usually caused by a dry period followed by lots of water or inconsistent watering. It could be too cool, or too hot or too dry. They suggest mulch and keeping a close eye on the area. A quick call to our local Extension Service (409-835-8461) will give you a Master Gardener volunteer who can answer your questions for you too. Good luck!

National Public Gardens Day

The annual tradition of celebrating public gardens on the Friday preceding Mother’s Day weekend continues this year on Friday, May 12, as Shangri La Botanical Gardens and Nature Center joins communities throughout the United States in celebration of National Public Gardens Day. Presented by the American Public Gardens Association (APGA), this annual day of awareness invites communities nationwide to explore the diverse beauty of their local green spaces and to take advantage of the conservation, education and environmental preservation resources public gardens provide.

Shangri La Gardens will be participating in National Public Gardens Day by offering one free Garden Only admission to Shangri La Gardens with each coupon downloaded from the National Public Gardens Day website.

Shangri La is at 2111 W. Park Avenue in Orange, and is open Tuesday – Saturday, 9 a.m. – 5 p.m. For more information, visit