Blame it on the weather.
Whether you choose to grow Sungold, Early Girl, Celebrity or Black Russian tomatoes has to do with where you live in North County.
“I have grown some of the best Early Girl tomatoes ever in Vista, since we are 10 degrees warmer and have more sun than my customers who live on the coast,” said Steven Froess of Anderson’s La Costa Nursery in Encinitas. “But many customers on the coast chose some of the smaller varieties that don’t take as long to mature in partially cloudy conditions.”
Froess is a part of the staff of the large nursery owned by Mariah and Marc Smith, who purchased it a number of years ago and offer a full selection of indoor and outdoor plants and trees, fountains, horticulture workshops and garden design services.
“We emphasize soil preparation to all of our customers,” advised Froess. “A mix of garden soil such as Kellogg’s Garden Bloom mixed with worm castings and composted chicken manure will give a great start to your tomato crop. By fertilizing first, our gardeners don’t have to worry about fertilizing again for 4-6 weeks.”
I called upon one of my fellow horticulturists, Fred Palladino of Tucson, Arizona, to help explain growing conditions.
“The climate is difficult for growing large Beefsteak tomatoes in the San Diego area,” Palladino said. “You can have perfect soil and water conditions, but without a full eight hours of summer and high temperatures for at least eight weeks, it is difficult to grow the largest varieties.
“Smaller varieties such as Cherry, Roma, Heirloom and Grape tomatoes tend to give a higher yield in the San Diego climate. New varieties such as Russian Krim and Black Russian were developed in colder, partially cloudy areas similar to North County.”
Anderson’s La Costa Nursery presently has over 15 varieties of tomatoes to chose from, including Purple Rose, Cherokee Purple, Russian Krim, Brandywine and Sungold — all of which were favorites with the staff. Owner Mariah Smith reminds all of the customers to purchase tomato cages for indeterminate types.
These tomatoes grow larger than determinate types, such as Patio or Roma varieties, which stay compact and tend to fruit all at one time. Look for the determinate label if you want tomatoes that will produce throughout the season.
As for pruning, Froess said, “When clipping the suckers from the plants, make sure to wait until two leaves develop and pinch above them. This practice provides better foliage cover to protect the fruit and stems from damage.”
When planning a new vegetable garden, it is important to assess your site before making an investment in supplies and plant material. Be sure to take a walk in your yard or patio, and take pictures at different times of the day to determine which area will provide you with the most sun.
Keep an eye on the weather, including cloud and sun conditions as well as temperature predictions. Remember that temperature and weather conditions will vary throughout the county whether it is on the coast or inland.
Mariah Smith noted, “In May and June we have lots of cloudy days, and then the warmer weather arrives in July and August. In Encinitas, we also have morning fog, which can bring in high humidity to the plants.”
If plants become too wet, blossom-end rot or powdery mildew can occur and plants might need to be treated with a fungicide. Adding calcium to the soil can also help strengthen the growth of the plants.
Check with San Diego Master Gardener website at mastergardenersd.org for further information regarding plant varieties and disease problems.
Anderson’s La Costa Nursery is located at 400 La Costa Avenue, Encinitas. Marc and Mariah Smith and their staff can be reached at 760-753-3153 or andersonslacostanursery.com.
I look forward to hearing about your favorite tomato varieties and I would be happy to answer your gardening questions. Contact me at [email protected]
Jano Nightingale is a master gardener and former director of the Master Gardener Program at Cornell Cooperative Extension in Cooperstown, New York. She lives in Vista and works on local community gardens.