Tomatoes are a great crop to grow in the garden now through the fall. And different types are appropriate for different times of the year.
“Generally spring tomatoes — nonheat set — are planted after the last frost,” says LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot.
In south Louisiana, that’s generally after March 15. These include all heirloom and nonheat set varieties.
The LSU AgCenter recommends coming back in late June and again in late July and planting heat-set tomatoes, which will produce until the first frost.
Spring tomatoes are easier to grow than those produced in the summer or fall, Fontenot says, because pest populations tend to increase in the summer. With heat-set tomatoes, keep an eye out for disease and insects, especially stink bugs.
Ortho Bug B Gon Max and Sevin are both labeled for use in the vegetable garden.
“But don’t spray until you see the critters,” Fontenot advises.
It’s easier to kill stink bugs in their juvenile stage. But at that point they look almost identical to an assassin bug. Assassin bugs usually hang out solo whereas stink bugs cluster.
“So if you see a bunch all together on a leaf, it’s most likely the stink bug,” she says.
As for diseases, tomato spotted wilt virus is transmitted by thrips.
Once the thrips lands on the leaf and pierces into it with its mouthparts, the virus can be transmitted in 10 seconds.
“Insecticides do not treat nor prevent TSWV,” Fontenot says. “Therefore, we have to use resistant varieties or use aluminum-coated plastic mulch.”
The intense sunlight bounces off the mulch, preventing the thrips from detecting the green foliage of the plants so they bypass the tomato patch.
This works until the plants grow large enough to cover the mulch, but it usually gets at least a first harvest of tomatoes before they become infected. Some years are worse than others for this insect.
“It’s hard to detect because thrips are about the size of dust,” Fontenot says.
Gardeners can find more information on growing tomatoes and other garden vegetables in the Louisiana Vegetable Planting Guide, available online at lsuagcenter.com.
Search for “vegetable planting guide.”
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.