Hows does Your Garden Grow?


Louise Grabell

Everyone can grow tomatoes! One plant is all you’ll need to harvest plenty of delicious “fruit” to enjoy in early summer. Growing tomatoes in the high desert of southern Arizona is a bit different from other places. Since I grow my tomatoes in a container, the following will explain how to do so. If you are a farmer and want to grow a row of tomatoes, good luck! You will probably need a raised bed and irrigation lines. Why bother? A container with one plant will do the trick.

The container should have a minimum diameter of 12 inches, and a minimum height of 15 inches. This will be sufficient for one plant, but an even larger container will work better. Daily watering will be necessary, especially in hot weather. Also, exposure to at least six hours of sunlight will allow your tomato plant to grow well. Morning ‘til noon sun would be best as our afternoon sun/heat is too damaging later this spring.

You can purchase tomato seedlings at your local nursery. It’s not too early to pick out a variety that you will enjoy. You’ll have the most luck with cherry/grape tomatoes because they are short-season plants. Beef tomatoes simply take too long for good fruits to ripen, so do not select this type. The label on the seedling container will tell you the number of days ‘til ripe fruit can be harvested. Try to select a variety that ripens in about 70 days. That will bring you into mid-May or early June.

The soil for the container should be properly prepared, or buy a good packaged garden soil product from your local nursery. There are some brands that already contain fertilizer, and that’s OK, but you should not apply any tomato fertilizer until your plant has grown in the container for at least two–three weeks. And you will need tomato fertilizer, so buy that, too.

After filling the pot with new garden soil, moisten it completely and then plant your tomato. In the cooler weather, the new soil will stay wet a bit longer, but make sure the top layer is moist as that is where the new seedling’s roots are located until the plant is established. Since I buy the indeterminate type which grows tall, I insert a tomato cage into the container at the time of planting.

It’s a good idea to get your tomato growing as soon as possible. If you wait much longer, your plant will not produce fruit. That’s because tomato pollen is not fertile much above 90 degrees, and the little flower blossoms will dry up and fall off the plant as well. If the night temperature is going to fall below 45 degrees, cover the plant. Good luck and enjoy!

Your Master Gardeners invite you to visit their website for all up-to-date information and events for your community. Garden questions? You can reach our very own Garden Helpline by calling Pat at 407-6459. Remember, nothing brings more tranquility to the heart than a beautiful garden.