Mid-March is the best time to begin transplanting tomatoes, says LSU AgCenter vegetable specialist Kiki Fontenot. But be prepared to cover newly planted plants if a frost is imminent.
Tomatoes need six to eight hours of direct sunlight each day to set fruit, so select an appropriate location and fertilize the bed with 5-6 pounds of 13-13-13 per 100-foot row prior to planting. Put your transplants into a prepared bed about 18 to 24 inches apart.
Gardeners should again apply fertilizer at first and third bloom set to obtain better yields.
And watch out for insects, aphids, thrips and worms that are common in spring, Fontenot says. Check with your parish extension agent if you have trouble identifying them.
The most prevalent disease is early blight, and gardeners should watch the older foliage carefully for spots that look like tree rings.
Early blight will eventually defoliate the plant starting from the older foliage moving to newer. Apply copper fungicides according to labeled directions until the weather becomes too hot when temperatures are in the upper 80s throughout the day.
Tomato plants come in two types — indeterminate or determinate. Indeterminate types have a vegetative terminal bud that continues to grow.
Varieties that grow well in Louisiana include Better Boy and Big Beef, which produce large fruit, and Champion and Pink Girl, which have pink flesh.
Popular cherry varieties include Sweet Million, Sweet Chelsea, Jolly, Small Fry, Juliet, Elfin, Cupid, Mountain Belle and Sun Gold, Fontenot says.
Determinate types, on the other hand, have a fruiting terminal bud that keeps the plant from growing beyond about 4 feet.
These types are better suited for containers. They should be pruned only once or twice up to the first fruit cluster, Fontenot says. Recommended determinate types for Louisiana include Celebrity, Carolina Gold, Florida 91, Mountain Spring, Tribeca, Tribute and Floralina. Cherry Grande is a good cherry variety. Fontenot also suggests Sun Master, Sunleaper, Mountain Spring and Phoenix.
Stake tomatoes or grow them in cages or on chicken wire trellises or along a fence to support the vines to keep the fruits off the ground.
“For containers, use dwarf varieties or determinate varieties and grow them in the largest container you can find,” Fontenot says.
The tomato spotted wilt virus has nearly eliminated tomato production in some areas. If you have had trouble with it, Fontenot says, try the Bella Rosa, Mountain Glory, Amelia, Crista, Quincy, Tribeca, Tribute and Talladega varieties.
Got a gardening question? Write to GardenNews@agcenter.lsu.edu.