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The Time is Ripe for Tomatoes

For garden enthusiasts, spring can’t come soon enough. Many gardeners have already started their tomato seedlings indoors for early fruit bearing. Other gardeners will depend upon the larger plants sold at nurseries and plant centers. Whatever you choose, here are some pointers for selecting tomatoes for the Druid Hills garden.

1. Choose hybrid, heirloom or both! A hybrid tomato is a cross between two genetically different parents.  The hope is to get the best attributes from both parents. Heirloom tomatoes have been produced for generations and are not mixes of two different parents. Hybrids are usually more disease resistant and less tasty; heirlooms are more susceptible to seeds but taste better than most hybrids.

Good Hybrids:Better Boy, Big Boy, Summer Girl, Early Girl, Steakhouse, Beefsteak, Beef Maestro, and Fourth of July. They will have the word “hybrid” written on the plant tag.

Good Heirlooms:Abe Lincoln, Rutgers, Amish Paste, Aunt Ruby’s German Green, Mortgage Lifter, Cherokee Purple,  Box Car Willie, and Red Zebra. They will usually have the word “heirloom” on the plant tag.

2. Choose the type: bush, cherry, roma, regular, patio. Bush tomatoes have small round or oblong tomatoes (salad size) all over, as do cherry and patio, though patio is usually more appropriate for containers. In my experience, cherry tomatoes are less susceptible to being eaten by squirrels. Regular tomatoes are round, large or small, dark red, purple or even yellow and green. Roma tomatoes are pear shaped or oblong and are often used in cooking.

3. What do those letters after the tomato’s name mean? In hybrids, they indicate the disease(s) to which the tomato is resistant.

V = Verticillium Wilt           A = Alternaria         TSWV = Tomato spotted wilt virus

F = Fusarium Wilt       T = Tobacco mosaic virus (also do not use tobacco products in the garden)

N = Nematodes            St = Stembhylium (grey leaf spot)

4. Eight tips for growing good tomatoes this summer: (a) Prepare your soil with compost or other organic material or soil. If you had tomatoes in that spot last year, consider moving to another spot. (b) Pick a sunny (10 hours per day of sun), airy spot to plant the tomatoes. (c) Water deeply but infrequently. Infrequent watering causes the plants to develop deep roots. (d) Pick off the “suckers”—the small leaves that appear between two branches, and pinch off or trim the top of your plant to encourage bushy growth. (5) Regularly add compost or fertilizer. (e) Stake your tomatoes when you first plant them, or roots may be damaged later with staking. Tie them to the stakes with tomato ties from the nursery or, as I do, with old cut-up pantyhose or stockings that allow the plant to breath. (f) Use a safe insecticide to kill insect pests or the thumb and forefinger method of pulling them off and pinching them. (g) Protect your tomato plants from squirrels that will decimate your crop. If you can figure out how to protect your tomatoes from squirrels, please let me know!

Happy Vegetable Gardening!

Contributed by Jennifer J. Richardson, Georgia Master Gardener, DeKalb County

  1. Thank you, Jenny! Maybe we can set up an exchange or even a tasting of tomatoes in Druid Hills some time this summer if we can save some from the squirrels?


    Thanks for the timely tip! I need to get those in the garden this weekend!


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