Flowerdale Nursery 
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Flowerdale Nursery & Landscaping

Growing Tomatoes in Orange County: Both tomatoes & peppers belong to the same plant family as eggplants, tomatillos, tobacco, & potatoes. This plant family is known as the Solanaceae. The plants that we know from our everyday food were originally only native to the Americas being a relative recent addition to the cuisines of the rest of world (imagine Italian Food before they had tomatoes).

Tomatoes in Orange County

 Lycopersicon is the name of the genus of plants that are known as tomatoes. These plants are native to southern Mexico & South America. Tomatoes are warm season plants growing & fruiting best in warm air & soil temperatures. The growth habit of tomatoes is vine like or sprawling. Foliage of tomatoes varies from heavily dissected & fern like to broad “Potato Leaf” foliage. Tomatoes are divided into several groups based on the characteristics of their fruit.

  • Large Fruited (Beefsteak Tomatoes)
  • Medium Fruit Size (Slicing Tomatoes)
  • Small Fruit (Cherry, Grape, Currant, or Salad Tomatoes)
  • Processing Tomatoes (Paste & Canning Tomatoes)
  • Hollow Fruited (Stuffing Tomatoes)
  • Oval or Heart Shaped Fruit (Oxheart Tomatoes)

Tomatoes come in a wide variety of shapes many fruit are scalloped, fluted, wavy, or pleated like a pumpkin. Colors vary from white, purple (black), yellow (gold), orange, red, pink, green, brown, & bicolor. Tomatoes have two types of fruiting habits:

    1. Determinate-these tomatoes grow mature then begin to flower & set fruit all at once, after which the plant stops growing.
    2. Indeterminate-these tomatoes flower & produce fruit during the entire life cycle of the plant. These tomatoes keep growing & blooming until weather conditions stop fruit set.

What Tomatoes Like

Tomatoes are one of the easiest & rewarding of vegetables for the garden here are the things to keep in mind when growing tomatoes.

  • They love light, demanding at least 4 hours or more of direct sun.
  • Tomatoes are warm season plants growing & producing the most fruit when temperatures are between 60 & 90 degrees F (extreme temperatures can cause bud drop)
  • Tomatoes are tolerant of a wide variety of soils, but they prefer soils that are somewhat well drained.
  • Avoid over- crowding as tomatoes respond with reduced production. Fruit split is caused by irregular watering.
  • Tomatoes are relatively drought resistant when compared to other vegetables.
  • Allowing the plants to dry out somewhat between watering, about one to three times a week is adequate. Do not water much in cool weather.
  • Young plants may need more water, decrease water as fruits ripen to concentrate flavors.

Fertilizing  Tomatoes

Tomatoes are heavy feeders requiring adequate nutrition to properly produce large quantities of high quality fruit. Applying compost at least once a year helps by adding nutrients to soil. The more compost you add to your soil the less fertilizer you will need.

  • Fertilize tomatoes once every three weeks.
  • Tomatoes are sensitive to phosphorus deficiency (this causes a purple cast to foliage).
  • Use organic fertilizers where the second number is larger than both the first & third number posted on the label.
  • Calcium & magnesium are essential for proper flower set & fruit formation (blossom end rot is caused by calcium deficiency). Organic fertilizers that contain bone meal are good choices to remedy deficiencies.
  • Gypsum can be added to improve the soils texture by loosening hard compact soils.
  • Mineral Soil Conditioner, Kelp Extracts, & Liquid Gold, are products that add many micronutrients like magnesium to the soil.
  • Adding worm castings once a year is another source of adding the micro-nutrients that tomatoes love to your gardens soil.
  • Making a tea of compost, worm castings, or manure is another way to add nutrients into the soil.

Pests & Diseases

Tomatoes are relatively care free plants but they do have some problems that can plague them. Fortunately with proper cultural techniques & planning these problems can be avoided. Tomatoes are prime targets for pests. The following are the most common offenders; aphids, mealy bugs, ants, grasshoppers, tomato horn worms, possums & gophers.

         Establish a threshold for a low pest population level. Monitor the pests in your garden. Understand that pests are a natural part of your garden.

         Eradicate infestations or pest populations out of control manually at first.

         Attract beneficial insects, bats & birds.

Use pesticides as last resort for problem situations.

         Pyrethrins, spinosad, insecticidal soaps, & oils are all great organic insecticides which control most if not all insect pests.

Aim for prevention.

         Keep a clean garden. Remove dead leaves, twigs, fruits, etc.

         To prevent introducing new pests to your garden quarantine new plants, inspect their leaves, stems, & roots.

         Use only pesticides listed for vegetables. Organic pesticides of relatively low toxicity are best recommended on use in home gardens (we are what we eat).

         Companion plants can repel some bad bugs or attract the good ones, sometimes both.

Crop rotation is a must for disease control, ensuring the future health of your next tomato crop. Do not plant tomatoes in the same place every year. Do not plant tomatoes in soil that previously grew peppers, eggplant, tomatillos, or potatoes.

  • Wait at least one year 2 is best) before planting tomatoes in the same place again.

         Crop rotation disrupts the life cycle of many diseases & pests.

         Plants tomatoes with related crops like eggplants, tomatillo, peppers, & potatoes so that you can easily rotate them around your garden.

Many diseases are caused by improper growing conditions which stress plants.

         Over watering is the #1 cause of plant death besides lack of water!

         Chose the right location.

         Keep tools clean & sharp

         Do not crowd plants too close together.

         Avoid incorrect harvesting, or harvesting at the wrong time of year.

         Support plants with stakes to hold up fruit laden stems & to keep fruit off the ground.

If your plant becomes infected with a disease it is best to remove & destroy the plant as soon as the detection is noticed. The gardener is limited to what can be applied safely to edibles for disease control (we are what we eat).


Tomatoes are easy to plant, when planting a new tomato transplant you want o plant it “deep”. This means burying a portion of the lower stem under the ground. This is beneficial because tomatoes root advantageously from their stem giving them a sturdy base from which to grow stems up & roots down.

Plant Selection

Plant selection is an extremely important thing to consider in a edibles garden. Choosing the correct varieties can increase your yield throughout the growing season & reduce your work.

  • Choose only varieties that have been developed or are proven to do well in your area (ask your nurseryprofessional).
  • Choose different varieties to strategically harvest the same crop at different times of year.
  • Choose varieties for specific uses, quality, quantity, flavors, or nostalgia (heirlooms).
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