The Secret to Growing Tomatoes in El Paso

Tomatoes by Dave Turner, El Paso Master Gardener

The tomato is the most popular vegetable grown in the home garden in Texas and across the country. It’s not the easiest to grow successfully, so why is it the favorite? The answer is simple: TASTE.

Like all vegetables, tomatoes like well-drained soil that has been amended with lots of compost.

If it is not the soil, then what’s the secret? Tomatoes have both the male and female parts (the stamen and the pistil) in each blossom, and therefore can be pollinated by the wind. This is not a problem in El Paso. However, with tomatoes, this pollination is inhibited at higher temperatures. When the nighttime temperatures are above 75 degrees and the daytime highs are 92 and above, very little, if any, pollination takes place. The plants will still blossom, but the blossoms will not become tomatoes.

What does this “secret” mean for us in El Paso? The time between our last frost and the temperatures mentioned above is fairly short here. This means that transplants (not seeds) should be put in the ground right after the last frost to give them time to grow, blossom, and set as many tomatoes as possible before it gets too hot. The tomatoes that have set will continue to grow and ripen later in the summer when it is hot.

When should I plant them? I recommend planting them in the latter part of March or the first week of April at the latest. If we get a frost after that, it would likely be light and the plant would be fine. If it does happen and the plant is damaged, replace it. If it recovers it may not produce well so don’t take the chance. If you grow your own transplants from seeds, grow extras and save them for this purpose.

Another “secret” about tomatoes is that the young plants do not like wind. A strong wind for just a few hours can kill these small plants. You probably realize that I just recommended transplanting your tomatoes at the height of our windy season. So now what? The tomatoes will need a cage for support later anyway, so put it around the plant now.

Cover the side of the cage with garden cloth or use a white or clear kitchen trash bag. Cut the bottom off the bag and put it over the cage. Whichever method you use, secure it with clothes pins. Either of these will block the wind and still let light through for the plant. This will also allow some protection from the cold, and help ensure more success growing tomatoes in El Paso!

Related articles from the Learn»Gardening Topics page:

Vegetable Planting Calendar for El Paso County

Vegetable Varieties for El Paso County

Growing Tomatoes in El Paso

Tomato Problem Solver

Vegetables – Easy Gardening Series

Verduras – Easy Series de Jardinería (En Español)

Kid w_ headphonesTo learn more about planting spring vegetables and herbs, listen to this Good to Grow radio show called Spring Vegetables. Check this page for photos of how to cover your tomato plants to protect them from our springtime winds.

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