The Best Tricks in Planting Tomatoes in Your Coastal Northern California Garden
- Cool-weather Tomato Growing Basics
- What Variety of Tomato Should I Plant?
- Growing Your Own Tomato Plants From Seed
- The Best Tricks in Planting Tomatoes in Your Garden (this page)
- Frames, Houses and other Growing Helpers
Tomatoes are tropical in origin and need both warmth and light. The winter months will require supplemental lighting. From a practical standpoint it is better to purchase tomatoes at the grocery store during this period rather than trying to grow a crop in a greenhouse. But they are one of the easiest crops to grow during the rest of the year. Here are some tips to assist North Coast growers in enjoying their homegrown tomatoes.
Picking the Right Spot for Your Tomato Plants
Most of the North Coast grows wonderful and flavorful tomatoes, but gardens near the ocean lack the summertime heat. The simplest way to determine the ideal location of your tomato plants in the fog belt is to place them where people go when they sit outside to enjoy the weather. Remember, tomatoes need as much sun and warmth (especially at night) as possible.
Tomatoes aren't terribly fussy about the type of soil they're in, and they'll be happy as long as you put the roots below the ground and the leafy part above.
Root temperature is more important than leaf temperature
Many North Coast gardeners hurriedly put their tomatoes in the ground as early as they can in the spring, assuming it will pay off with earlier fruit. But the magic is not associated with them being in the ground versus being in a planter; the magic is in the soil temperature. Tomato roots will not grow or provide nutrients to the plant at soil temperatures of 50°F or below, they will just sulk until the soil warms to a more hospitable temperature. When roots are not actively growing they are more susceptible to disease and predators. Researchers have found that the ideal root temperature for tomatoes is 70°F, so do all you can to increase this important number.
Techniques to Help You Grow Excellent Tomatoes
- Use determinate varieties (explanation) of tomato because they set blossoms and fruit in cooler temperatures.
- Put the tomato plants up against a south-facing wall that reflects the light and heat.
- Before planting, put black or red plastic over the soil to "pre-heat" the soil, warm it up faster.
- Plant tomatoes when the soil temperature is above 55°F (how do I find that out?) and the air temperature does not go below 45 degrees at night. You can find the current soil and air temperatures in our Fortuna orchard here.
- After the soil warms up, place dark rocks at the base of the plant to act as mulch and store daytime heat. Putting your tomato plants near concrete walks and driveways works, too.
- Above-ground planters have warmer root temperatures. Use determinate varieties (explanation) if you utilize planters.