Secret to growing fall

July 29, 2010

by Roy Cook, Victoria County Master Gardener

edited by Charla Borchers Leon,
Victoria County Master Gardener
Gardeners' Dirt

Celebrity seedlings are a determinate growth variety maturing in less than 75 days and are good for fall harvest. Move the seedlings into larger containers to develop larger root systems before planting.
Many cherry tomatoes are indeterminate varieties with vine or climbing type of plant growth. They mature over a longer time and may work better for fall plantings, setting fruit later in the season. This healthy transplant is ready for planting. Mix 1/4 to 1/2 cup complete 100 percent slow release fertilizer into the planting hole and cover with an inch of soil before planting the tomato plant.
Transplanted seedlings do best in morning sun with shade from mid-day and hot afternoon sun. They need soil with good external and internal drainage and must be watered on a daily basis while in containers to keep from dying or being stunted.
For successful fall tomato production, timing from planting to harvest is very important. Keeping in mind that the first average frost date is Dec. 5, you will need to know the number of days until maturity of the variety that you want to grow.


Count back the number of days from average first frost date and that will be the date that you should have your transplants in the ground.

Transplants purchased in late July and August in cell packs or peat pots have small root balls and if planted directly in the garden in this summer heat will most likely not survive.

If you do purchase your transplants in late July or August, instead of rushing home and planting them in your garden, consider moving them up into larger containers where they will develop larger root systems before planting in the garden.


By selecting the right varieties, planting at the right time along with proper soil preparation and fertilization, control of weeds, diseases and insects, proper soil moisture and harvesting at the right time, you can become a green thumb tomato grower.

The ideal garden location receives eight or more hours of sunlight daily and has no competition from buildings, large shrubs or trees.

For starters, I have my transplants in containers where they receive morning sun, but shaded from the mid-day and hot afternoon sun.

The soil must have good external and internal drainage and be near a source of water for irrigation. When still in containers, you must remember to water on a daily basis to keep from having the transplants die or being stunted.

Stunted plants delays fruit maturity and yield, and you don't want that to happen.


Many people don't know this, but tomato fruit set is affected by the night temperature, not the hot day temperature. Night temperature below 50 degrees delays the time from pollination to fertilization causing flower drop. Night temperatures above mid-70s disrupts pollen shed causing flower drop on large, fruited varieties. That is why we plant tomatoes early in the spring (to beat the high summer nighttime temperatures).

So a good, normal, cool fall season can result in a large tomato set and excellent production. But if the daily heat continues into September, planting heat-tolerant tomatoes will help to ensure a quicker set fall tomato crop.

Fast maturing tomato varieties, such as celebrity, carnival and bingo, are good for the fall harvest. They fall into a category requiring less than 75 days to maturity.

Determinate or indeterminate growth - Tomatoes are either determinate growth or indeterminate growth. Determinate varieties have a bushy type of plant growth. They also ripen or mature within a specific time period.

Indeterminate varieties have a vine or climbing type of plant growth, which sets, ripens or matures over a longer time period, thus may work better for fall plantings setting fruit later in the season.

Many cherry tomatoes are short- to mid-season and are indeterminates, which fit for fall plantings.

Fertilizer - For successful tomato production, plant large, vigorous plants and incorporate to cup of complete, 100 percent slow release fertilizer per plant at planting time. Mix the fertilizer in the planting hole, covering with about 1 inch of soil before planting the tomato.

If you are unsure of your soil's micronutrient levels, apply a weekly foliar spray of a water-soluble fertilizer with micro-nutrients. Work in 2 to 3 tablespoons of high nitrogen fertilizer per plant when the first cluster of fruit sets.

Caged or staked - Tomatoes need to be caged or staked in order to keep the fruit off the ground and prevent rotting. Cages can be purchased locally in different shapes and sizes or you can make your own from concrete reinforcing wire. Cut the wire in 5-foot lengths and wrap it around to form a cylinder about 19 inches in diameter. You must put two stakes, one on each side, to keep them from blowing over in high winds.

Staking is an old-fashioned method and works fine, but requires more time and work. The suckers where each leaf joins the stem must be removed.

Livestock panels - Livestock panels are another way of supporting tomato plants. Place the bottom of the panel about 2 feet away from a T-Post driven in the ground and lean the tops of the panel against the posts. Secure with rope or wire. Plant your tomatoes and let them grow up through the panels.


Wilt diseases - Fall tomatoes are not without their problems. Verticillium and fusarium are wilt diseases that are in the soil and affect the roots causing wilting and death of the plant. To ensure success and minimal wilt problems, select the varieties that have a V and an F after the variety name indicating resistance to these diseases, such as "Celebrity VFN."

Fungal and bacterial diseases - There are other fungal and bacterial diseases that are more common during wet, rainy weather or from constant overhead irrigation. Minimize wetting the leaves; watering the soil by hand or soaker hoses is highly recommended to prevent a lot of these fungal/bacterial problems.

Other pests - Expect some insect pest and potential weed challenges with fall tomato growing.

The mockingbird might even take a bite to test your fruit. There are remedies for each of these pesky occurrences.

Start with the right variety of good, stocky, healthy transplants, plant at the right time and follow these tips for successful fall tomato production
Tips For Successful Tomato Garden

Planting date depends on variety and days counted back from first frost date
*Should develop larger root systems before planting.

Respond to morning sun of an 8-hour sun day.
*Require soil with good external and internal drainage.
*Need watering daily while in containers.
*Indeterminate varieties set and mature fruit over a longer period.

Use 100 percent complete slow release fertilizer at planting time.
*Cage, stake or use livestock panels to support plants and keep fruit off the ground.
Bush Celebrity
Bush Early Girl
BHN 444
Solar Set

Big Boy
Better Boy
Early Girl
Big Beef

These are just a few available varieties.
The Gardeners' Dirt is written by members of the Victoria County Master Gardener Association, an educational outreach of Texas AgriLife Extension - Victoria County. Mail your questions in care of the Advocate, P.O. Box 1518, Victoria, TX 77901; or, or comment on this column at