Bouquet of Carrots Photos Leslie Halleck

It’s Time to Veg Out

To plant tomatoes, or not plant tomatoes? That's the question Leslie Halleck tackles this week.

It had to be done. . . I was time to pull the remaining carrots from my raised veggie beds in order to make way for spring crops. Gardeners in our climate are often faced with this conundrum: My winter vegetables are still rockin’, but it’s time to plant tomatoes! What do I do?

I still have plenty of spinach, mache, cilantro and other cool-weather edibles marching right along. But it is time to plant tomatoes and start prepping for other warm season crops. So, while I would have loved to let the carrots continue to put on a bit more girth, I decided that I could settle for a batch of oven roasted baby carrots in order to make way for spring crops. The sacrifice has to come from somewhere in the garden.

Time to plant tomatoes!
Tomato tip: Cage them immediately after planting.

Typically, the optimal target date for planting tomatoes is around March 15th in the Dallas area. I usually hedge my bets by planting them earlier and keeping frost cloth on hand (which I’ve use a few times this planting season). In order to get good fruit production, planting early is better than planting late. Your goal should be to get 4″ tomato transplants in ground before the end of the month. Once we move into April, 4″ plants often do not have enough time to mature to a fruiting stage before temperatures are too hot. You may end up with a big beautiful tomato plant, but no fruit.  If you’ve procrastinated and find yourself shopping for tomatoes in mid-April, buy bigger containers; 1-gallon or larger.

While tomatoes might be tropical plants, they don’t fare well in our extremely hot temperatures. Once night temperatures hit 85 F, most tomatoes will go into heat-delay — meaning, no more fruit set — and hence the urgency to get them in the ground now. Cherry tomatoes tend to be more heat tolerant and will fruit further into summer. “Solar Fire”, “Arkansas Traveler”, “Yellow Pear”, “Porter Improved”, “Supersweet 100”, “Super Fantastic” and “Celebrity” are all good heat tolerant varieties – but there are plenty more to choose from. I’ve found the dwarf ‘Indigo Rose’ produces surprisingly well mid-summer.

For improved production in the heat, also check out the “Mighty Matos” variety. These grafted tomatoes boast a tough rootstock that is more tolerant to common tomato diseases.  Don’t wait long, though — tomato plants will be flying out the door at local garden centers over the next week or so.

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