Top tips for a season filled with ripe tomatoes

Holy procrastination! I know you meant to grow tomatoes, herbs and vegetables this summer but maybe you still haven’t planted a thing. There is a tiny bit of light at the end of the procrastination tunnel.

This week, checkout nursery clearance plants and farmers market vendors for tomato plants in large, gallon sized containers. You still have time to bring home these mature plants and get them into the ground for a last chance at some home-grown goodness. The larger the container the more likely the tomato, pepper or eggplant will not be stunted or pot bound. If we have a sizzling hot September (as expected) your farmer genes will be happy. Hot days and ripe tomatoes are a great combination.

Herbs like basil, oregano, rosemary and other heat-loving varieties can be purchased now in 4-inch pots and transplanted into the garden or larger pots. Keep snipping the top one to two inches from these herbs to use as fresh seasonings and the plants will continue to make more flavorful foliage until frost.

Q. Do I have to give my tomatoes a lot of extra water? We tend to be gone for long weekends in the summer when the weather is nice. This is my first year growing tomatoes. They are planted in the ground and our soil is pretty good because the previous owners had a vegetable garden. K.H., Tacoma

A. I think you and your tomatoes can enjoy a long weekend apart. Tomatoes have deep roots in good soil and if you add a mulch of wood chips on top or their roots in mid-summer you should be able to go a week or more without irrigating your tomato plants. Tomatoes grown in containers of potting soil will need watering more often. The weather, soil and size of container determines when to water.

Q. When should I fertilize my tomato plants? My soil is pretty good and the plants have green fruit on them. G.H., email

A. The traditional time to feed tomatoes is once you see the fruit appearing. Side dress with a complete fertilizer (that means it has all three of the major nutrients listed as three numbers on the label.) You can use a liquid or granular food and the word “side dress” means to apply along the sides of the plants about a foot from the stems where the roots will be growing. Avoid using a fertilizer that is high in nitrogen or you will get a lot of green leaves with little fruit. Nitrogen is always the first of the three numbers on the fertilizer label. It should not be the largest number of the three when feeding tomatoes.

Q. I am growing some compact tomatoes in patio pots. I already am harvesting ripe fruit. Now my neighbor tells me these dwarf tomato plants with the letter “D” after their name will not keep bearing fruit all summer. True? P.P., Olympia

A. True. Time for an alphabet lesson. The letter “D” on the label of a tomato plant means that it is indeed a more dwarf or determinate tomato. This is good because you get an early and heavy harvest on compact plants. But then the production of fruit slows down or stops. The other letter you may see on the label of a tomato start is the letter “I” for “indeterminate” and this means the tomato plant continues to grow until a hard frost so you get huge plants with a much longer harvest. The determinate plants are perfect for pots and an early harvest and the taller indeterminate great for longer harvests and for growing inside cages in the ground. Just to continue with the alphabet lesson, you may also see “F,” meaning it is resistant to fusarim wilt, and “V,” meaning the plant is resistant to verticillium wilt. The letter “N” means the variety is resistant to nematodes.

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

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