Tips For Growing Tomatoes In Los Alamos County

Tomato plants in Walls-of-Water. Photo by Denise George

It is possible to grow a large Brandywine. Photo by Doris Thielemann

Los Alamos Master Gardeners News:

As it warms, we all get anxious to plant our tomato plants and harvest those luscious fruit. That is especially true this year with COVID-19, when many of us are spending more time in the garden and possibly gardening for the first time.

Our average last freeze day is May 15, so wise people suggest that we wait until after that date to plant.

However, many of us want to push to an earlier date, especially as the days get warmer. Last year in White Rock, I planted the tomatoes May 4. A White Rock friend, who also planted early, said all of hers were frost bitten after May 22. Not true of mine, but there are microclimates. This year, they were in the ground May 11. That afternoon a brief but hard rain came, even with a bit of hail. They had been hardened off for several days and made it through the rain in flying colors.

If your tomato plants have grown tall and thin, making them weak and susceptible to wind, plant them deep. They will develop roots along the buried stem. I have had some so tall and thin that digging the necessary deep hole was very difficult, so we drug a trench, very carefully laying the long stem on its side and gently curving the top of the plant above soil level. Whether you purchased or grew your plants from seed, remove the lower leaves when you plant deeply.

If you have concerns about a freeze, there are methods to help. Used gallon plastic milk jugs with the bottom cut out serve as a quick and inexpensive night time shelter. Covering with a light cloth that would not break the plants could provide what you need. Wall-of-Water helps to shelter them from our cooler nights and days. No matter how you may shelter your tomatoes, keep a watchful eye and remove the protection before the summer heat causes damage. Denise George, Master Gardener and expeirienced tomato grower, forwarns us that plants can burn in a Wall-of-Water. As a lot of our garden know-how is obtained, she learned from experience.

Denise also reminds us that tomatoes need support such as stakes or cages to keep the fruit off the ground. At our home we use 2 sections of cattle fensing tied at the top – a sort of double lean-to. We have not had any toppling issues with these fenses.

What type of tomato to grow? That depends on your garden and what you like to eat. Ask around, experiment. In the past I have had great luck with Early Girl. Not any more. Last year I did an experiment and grew 12 different types all recommended by other gardeners. Six did well, 6 did not. Why? The season, the water, the soil, or me (the gardener)? I always grow a Brandwine, while others say our season is too short for them to ripe and the plants are all leaves with few fruit. But getting a few delicious, juicy, funny shaped Brandywine is worth it for me. If you are a first time gardener, try sticking to the smaller cherry tomatoes. I think they will encourage you to continue to be a tomato grower.

There is definitely a difference between White Rock and the town of Los Alamos. An article by Stephanie Walker, New Mexico State University Extension Vegetable Specialist, places White Rock and Los Alamos in different planting areas.

What you do in White Rock differs from Los Alamos. The NM Extension Service offers an immense amount of information on home gardening.

Locally, we are fortunate to have in Los Alamos an office of NM Extension Service. You can contact Carlos Valdez, Horticulturist, at 505.662.2656 or to ask your questions. Their web page will provide information on gardening in Los Alamos County.

The Los Alamos Master Gardeners Association has a website providing information on growing in Los Alamos. If you want to speak with a Master Gardener, Carlos Valdez can help you find someone in your area. The Master Gardeners’ mission is to provide education to the public on safe and proven gardening methods.

Tomato plant in Wall-of-Water. Photo by Denise George

Fencing to support tomato plants. Photo by Doris Thielemann

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