Plant fall tomatoes now


Want fall tomatoes? The time is now if you want to try your hand at growing fall tomatoes. Never tried it? Well, just about now, when your spring tomatoes are a big mess in the garden and overwrought with heat and not producing, is just about time to put in the delicious fall tomatoes. This should give us just about enough time to have some yummy tomatoes before the first freeze. (Yes, it will get cold again.)

You want your tomatoes to have time to mature before our days begin to shorten and to produce well before the first frost. Unless there is a “freak” frost, we usually have through the beginning of December to plant these delightful red treats. “Sungold” cherry tomatoes will mature in about 57 days. The popular “Celerity” tomato will need about 70 days to mature. Some varieties, like the “Brandywine” heirloom, need about 100 days to mature, so they may not be the best choice unless you are lucky with warm fall temperatures.

One of the worries of planting fall tomatoes is to make sure they can tolerate the summer heat when they go in. They need more water than you think, and a deep mulch of 3-4 inches. Look for the healthiest tomato plant to use in your garden. They should be dark green and perky. The soil needs to be well draining and fertile. Be sure to get all of that old summer garden debris into the recycle pile. You can consider digging the tomato transplant in a little deeper than it was growing in its container. Clip off any leaves that fall below the soil level.

Farmers say, “In spring, we aim at production despite the fact it is too cold when we plant. In fall, we aim at production despite the fact it is too hot when we plant.” The larger the tomato transplant you use, the better your chances at it thriving. The tiny tomato transplants that we use in the spring have a pretty small root ball and sometimes find it hard to survive the August and early September heat. Look for 1-gallon plants, although you can grow the tiny ones with a little extra care. Cherry tomatoes are another great option. Cherry tomatoes produce many more fruit and flowers than larger tomatoes, so if pollination conditions are poor, they have a better chance of doing well. For this reason, I usually container-up cherry tomato plants for our use in the fall.

Use the advice of Cecil Hightower, fabulous local gardener and tomato expert: “If using a chemical fertilizer like 13-13-13, it’s best to place it several inches deeper than the roots and cover it with some soil before placing the tomato.” Use your compost pile or purchased compost to enrich the fall garden soil just as you would in the spring. 

If all else fails, I understand that our wonderful Farmer’s Market on College Street will go into September and October with produce.