Growing Tomatoes in Southern California

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You would think that with our long growing season Southern California would be the ideal climate for growing tomatoes. But according to the University of California, our ideal conditions are not so ideal: high temperatures can delay fruiting and intense sunlight can burn and cause improper ripening.

Selecting the right tomato?

According to the U of C experts the most important consideration for the successful growing of tomatoes is breeding: specifically, disease-resistant varieties that have been adapted to your specific area, (coast, inland, valley, desert). These should be available at your local garden store or greenhouse. And make sure to look for plants that stand 6 to 12 inches high and to avoid tall, lanky plants with pot-bound roots.

Prior to planting.

After you’ve purchased your plants it’s important to place them in a sheltered location for a few days so that they can acclimate to your outdoor conditions. Once acclimated, move them to the sunny area where they are to be planted for a day or two.

Planting

  1. If you’re planting more than one plant, be sure to space them far enough apart so that the vines can be staked or you can place tomato cages for the vines to grow through.
  2. Dig a hole deep enough to cover the root system so that the bottom leaves are about one inch from the soil.
  3. If you have really poor soil, (see our newsletter “Soil Isn’t Sexy But It Is Essential” to learn what constitutes good soil) enlarge the hole and mix potting soil, or compost with your own soil and use it to pack gently around the plant’s roots. Water until the soil is evenly moist.
  4. It’s important to keep the plants watered but not to the point that the soil becomes soggy. Consistency is important because periods of drought or excessive watering can cause blossom-end rot, cracked skins or limited yields.

Fertilize

Tomatoes need fertilizing beginning when the fruit begins to set and every four to six weeks thereafter.  Use balanced granular fertilizer designed specifically for tomatoes and according to the directions or rotted manure.

Dealing with problems

  1. Use shade cloth to screen the plants from intense afternoon heat or sun.
  2. Intense heat (85 degrees Farenheit) for more than a few days can cause tomato blossoms to drop and fruit fail to set. If this happens, continue to care for the plant and once cooler temperatures return, the should resume setting fruit.
  3. To avoid two common Southern California problems, solar yellowing and sun burn, consider growing your tomatoes in containers and move them to a shady location during very hot weather.

Resources:

There are countless website and resources on growing tomatoes, here are several that I think are important:

Pat Welsh’s Southern California Organic Gardening

Learn How To Grow Tomatoes with Pat Welsh on You Tube

Texas A&M: Vegetable Gardening in Containers

 

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