Flowerdale Nursery  & Landscaping
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Flowerdale Nursery
& Landscaping

Winter Tomatoes

Summer is drawing to a close & it's time to consider planting cool season or "winter" tomatoes. We have a great climate in Southern California (excluding areas farther than 30 miles inland, the mountains, & the high desert) that is relatively frost free. This means we can enjoy tomatoes over a longer season than most areas in the USA. However you can’t just plant any tomato & expect it to fruit in the cool weather, in order to succeed try the following:

Plant a variety that is especially selected to set fruit & grow well in cool weather. These varieties are often called early season, winter, or cool weather tomatoes. Most tomato fruit will stop setting & ripening when night time temperatures drop below 50 degrees.

Our favorites are: Siberia, Silvery Tree Fir, Manitoba, Early Wonder, Mule team, Matina, Jetsetter, Stupice, Paul Robeson, Opalka, Champion, Siletz, Early Girl, Sub Arctic Maxi, Oregon Spring, San Francisco Fog, & Glacier, Northern Lights.

In climates where frost is common these varieties will be the first that you will plant in your spring garden after the threat of all frost has past.  In frost free climates in order for these cool weather tomatoes to set a good amount of fruit they need to be in the ground before the cool weather starts. The months of September & October is a perfect time to plant these tomatoes as it allows enough warm weather for plants to mature.

 Plant your cool season tomatoes in an area with full sun all day. Provide protection from cold or damaging winds.

Avoid overwatering; let the soil dry out in between irrigations. Planting in a well drained soil will improve the performance of tomatoes during cold wet weather. Add pumice or perlite to the soil to improve drainage.

Do not plant cool season tomatoes in the same place where you previously grew other tomatoes, peppers (of any kind), eggplant, tomatillos, or potatoes. This will greatly increase the chance of disease & pest buildup in the soil & surrounding garden, it will also decrease the soils fertility.

Tomatoes grown in containers during cool weather tend to produce more fruit than those grown in the ground. This happens because the soil warms up faster in a container. However they will require more fertilizer than tomatoes grown in the ground. Specialized containers like the Earthbox & TopsyTurvy work well in the cool season as they provide additional warmth to roots. Tomatoes growing in the ground will benefit from a warm earth, a layer of mulch or black plastic helps to warm the soil & roots.

Use frost barriers to protect plants from extreme cold, Row covers & old sheets (old sheets only if dry & not touching the foliage) work very well for frost protection.

What Tomatoes like; Tomato is 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 6 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 overcrowding as tomatoes respond with reduced production. Fruit split is caused by irregular watering.

Tomatoes are relatively drought resistant when compared to other vegetables.

Allow the plants to dry out between watering, about one time a week is adequate.  

Young plants may need more water, decrease water as fruits ripen to concentrate flavors.

Fertilizing; 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 a month with Dr. Earth Tomato fertilizer

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 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 a last resort for problem situations. Pyrethrin, 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 for 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.

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).

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

Companion plants for cool season tomatoes in Southern California are; Borage Borago officinalis (repels horn worms), Sweet Alyssum (attracts beneficial insects), Pansy’s & Violets, Salvia, Calendula, Cilantro is the foliage/Coriander is the seeds (attracts pollinators), Carrots, Chives, Lettuce, Nasturtium, Garlic, & Onions.

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