I’ve been asked by several of my clients about the possibility of growing tomatoes during the winter here in Southern California. This is a doable proposition since our climate rarely has frost. For planting instructions and plant selection there are a number of sites on the Internet that will provide you with this information. The following comes from, How to Grow Tomatoes in the Winter in Southern California.
Tomatoes grow as annuals in most of the cold-winter areas of the United States. The plants grow, bloom, bear fruit during summer and die at the first frost. However, in hardiness zones 10 and above, where there is little chance of frost, tomatoes are perennials. Southern California is one such area. Plant tomatoes in late summer and enjoy them all winter.
- Buy an “indeterminate variety of tomato,” because indeterminate tomatoes bear fruit over the course of a season while “determinate tomatoes” produce a bumper crop all at one time. There are a number of Indeterminate varieties including heirloom. When shopping for your tomato plants, you will be looking for “indeterminate” on the label, or the abbreviation “IND” (or, less commonly, “INDET”).
- Locate the tomato where it receives a minimum of eight hours of sunlight per day. Planting the tomato against a stone wall or the side of the house gives it an extra boost of warmth. Make sure the tomato isn’t shaded by the wall.
- Dig up the ground to a depth of 24 inches. Add a bucket or two of compost or other organic material to the soil and work in well for each tomato plant. Tomato roots go as deep as 36 inches.
- Plant the transplant so its root ball is covered, but don’t lay the tomato on its side and bury the stem as you might have done in the early summer, suggests Robert Smaus in his article “August: Map Out a New Design, Sow Seeds, Try Winter Tomatoes,” published on the LA Times website.
- Fertilize once a month per package directions.
- Water if the tomato doesn’t receive 1 1/2 inches of rain each week. Winter is the rainy season in Southern California so you might not have to water very much.
- Remove blossoms until the tomato plant is 24 inches high so energy is directed at producing a strong healthy plant rather than fruiting.
- Cage the tomatoes with stakes and string or a wire tomato cage if you wish to keep the tomatoes off the ground. This will protect the plant from the many slugs and snails in Southern California. Place empty tuna cans filled with beer at ground level. Slugs and snails are attracted to the smell, fall in and drown.
- Cover the cages with bird netting when tomatoes start to blush. A few tomatoes on the outside may be still be ruined by the birds because they can sit on the cage and peck inside. Most of the tomatoes will be safe.
Tips & Warnings
Protect young plants on cold nights by covering them. Use a gallon water or milk jug with the top cut off placed over the seedling. Frost is rare in SoCal.
Tomato plants are toxic. Keep away from children and pets.
Additional Resource, About.com