Tomato planting time is finally here. Tomatoes are planted from transplants after all danger of frost in the spring. Tomato plants cannot tolerate a frost or freeze and thrive with mild temperatures in spring and early summer. Tomatoes do not set fruit in the heat of our summers (above 92 degrees) which leaves only a small window of opportunity in the spring to form fruit. This makes planting time critical. If you plant too soon (before March 15), frost will often kill them. However, if you plant too late (after April 15) you severely reduce your production. The ideal transplant is 6-8 inches tall, dark green, and has 6-8 healthy leaves. Avoid those that are yellow-green, purple-green, or spindly and tall. Once stunted they will not produce a bountiful harvest. To avoid unexpected late frosts, many gardeners have buckets or row cover ready for protecting their plants. Often summer heat, drought, and insects kill spring planted tomatoes in Texas. That is normal.

Some recommended tomato varieties for Texas are Better Boy, BHN 589, Bobcat, Celebrity (an All-American selection and the best for beginners), Florida 91, Harris-Moran 8849, Phoenix, Red Deuce, Red Snapper, Sunbright, Tycoon, and Valley Cat. Most cherry and small fruited varieties do well, and most patio types do not. Unfortunately, heirloom tomatoes and other indeterminate types do not produce very well in Texas.

Tomatoes require at least 8 hours of direct sunlight each day for maximum yields. Tomatoes do best in rich, loamy soils. Due to a problem with root infecting, microscopic nematodes (typical of sandy soils), it is best to avoid areas where this has been a problem or where tomatoes have grown the previous year. Make sure and choose nematode resistant varieties in this case. It is ideal to till in several inches of compost or organic matter and incorporate two pounds of a complete lawn fertilizer (15-5-10, etc.) per 100 square foot of bed or every 35 feet of row before planting. In small plantings incorporate two teaspoons per square foot or foot of row. Organic fertilizers are fine for tomatoes but because they are lower in nutrients you must use more for the same results. The ideal soil pH for growing tomatoes is 6.0-7.0.

Tomato transplants should be planted in well cultivated soil. Dig holes twice as wide and at least as deep as the existing pots they are growing in. Tomatoes can form roots along their stem so tall plants should have the lower several inches of their stems buried beneath the soil. By planting them deeper you produce a stronger plant with more roots. Strip any foliage off the lower stem that is to be beneath the ground and place into the hole. Gently firm the soil around them. Water thoroughly with a water-soluble plant food such as Miracle Grow at half the labeled rate.