How to Choose Tomato Varieties to Grow

Picking the right tomato variety for your garden

April 24, 2020

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How do you choose the best tomato variety for your yard? There are so many tempting tomato varieties! We’lll help you choose the best variety for you in this video. Article included!

Whether it’s a taste, size, appearance, disease resistance or use in the kitchen that makes a particular tomato stand out for you, there are a lot of factors to consider.

4 Factors When Choosing Tomatoes

There are four main factors to consider when choosing tomatoes:

1. Your local climate:

The first thing to consider is the length of your growing season.

  • Gardeners in cooler climates should opt for cool-climate tomatoes. Because these varieties mature earlier they are more likely to produce a crop even in short growing seasons. Late maturing or heat-loving varieties will need to be grown in a greenhouse or tunnel where the extra warmth will have the effect of extending the season.
  • On the other hand, if your summers are very hot it’s worth taking a look at some of the more modern varieties with improved heat tolerance. These ‘heat-set’ or ‘hot-set’ tomatoes can set fruits at temperatures far higher than traditional varieties can. Many heat-set tomatoes will also grow well in cooler weather.

2. Disease resistance:

Like many fruits and vegetables, tomatoes can succumb to a number of diseases over the growing season. Take preventative action by selecting varieties that are resistant to commonly occurring diseases in your area, and ensuring the right growing conditions.

In temperate areas, late blight is the disease that every tomato grower dreads, as it strikes during periods of warm, wet weather. Caused by a fungus (Phytophthora infestans), blight can destroy plants in as little as a week. The spores are carried up to 30 miles on the wind, so the only real way of avoiding blight is to either grow tomatoes under cover, or to select one of the new blight-resistant varieties. Alternatively, grow fast-maturing tomatoes, such as cherry tomatoes, which can give a harvest before the threat of blight arrives.

Learn more about tomato diseases and disorders and avoid blight with the right tomato.

3. Which types of tomato? 

Tomatoes come in all shapes, sizes and colors.

  • Cherry tomatoes range from pea to cherry-sized and are the sweetest to taste, making them ideal for children. See our post on growing cherry tomatoes!
  • Standard round-fruited types are high yielding, while plum, or ‘paste’ tomatoes are excellent for cooking because they contain plenty of flesh for sauce making.
  • Beefsteak varieties bear large and often irregular-shaped fruits. These chunky, quirky fruits have an outstanding taste and texture that’s ideal for tomato salads.
  • Other tomato varieties include heart-shaped oxheart types, hollow cavity tomatoes for stuffing, and early-to-mature pear tomatoes.

See the tempting new tomato varieties for 2020!

There is a rainbow of colors to choose from: classic blood red, sunny yellow, antioxidant-packed purple or black, striped – the choice is yours!

Tip: Our Garden Planner can help you to choose the best varieties for your garden. Simply double-click tomatoes on the selection bar to bring up the varieties box, and scroll through the drop-down list to select a variety. Or, click the plus button and hover over the ‘i’ Information buttons for catalog descriptions. You can also add your own variety complete with customized spacing or dates.

4. Growing Habit
Tomatoes are either determinate – which means they grow to a predetermined height – or indeterminate, where the main stem keeps on growing.

  • Determinate, or ‘bush’ tomatoes produce stout, bushy plants about three feet tall. The tomatoes ripen within a few weeks of each other, so are great for making sauces for freezing. Bush tomatoes require some support such as a stake and will grow well in containers.
  • Indeterminates, also known as vining or cordon tomatoes, produce fruits along a stem. Fruit production is staggered over the summer, giving a steady crop. Vine tomatoes often grow up to head height so they require tall supports such as bamboo canes or tomato cages.

Tumbling tomatoes offer a compact alternative for hanging baskets and tubs – perfect for those with a small garden or a balcony.

Sowing Tomatoes

Many beginner gardeners start their tomatoes from small plants purchased through an online catalog or at a garden center. If it’s after your frost date, it’s too late to sow tomatoes from seed.

However, if you wish to sow seeds, you would start them 6 to 8 weeks before planting, working back from your last frost date. Sow the seeds individually into pots or trays of damp seed-starting mix. Cover them over with a fine layer of potting soil, water carefully, then place the pot into a propagator or secure a clear plastic bag over the top of the pot to create a humid microclimate. Keep the pot in a warm location out of direct sunlight. A temperature of about 70 degrees Fahrenheit is ideal

As soon as the seeds have germinated, move them into a bright location. Turn windowsill seedlings regularly if they start to lean towards the light. Grow lights can give an early boost and promote upright growth.  Move your seedlings into their own pots as soon as they start to form their first adult leaves. Prepare potting soil-filled pots by dibbing holes ready for the seedlings. Remove the seedlings from their nursery pot then, handling them carefully by their leaves to avoid damaging the delicate stems, lower each seedling into its hole. Gently feed the roots down into the hole, and bury the seedlings right up to the first leaves to produce a much sturdier plant.

Grow your tomatoes on at about 60 to 65 degrees Fahrenheit. Nighttime temperatures can drop a bit lower than this and will help to encourage stronger plants. If the roots fill their pots before it is time to plant them out, simply pot them on into a larger container using fresh potting soil.

Growing Tomato Plants Outdoors

Outdoor tomatoes will first need acclimatizing to outside conditions to avoid cold shock. If the plants have been inside a greenhouse, harden them off over a period of two weeks. Begin by leaving plants outside for just a couple of hours a day then gradually increase the length of time they spend outside, avoiding windy days. Bring plants under cover if temperatures threaten to drop below 40 degrees Fahrenheit. Plant outside only after all danger of frost has passed.

There are many, many varieties of tomato to explore – enough for a lifetime of discovery! Select varieties suitable for your location and conditions and you’ll be hooked on growing these flavorsome beauties.

To learn how to plant and grow tomatoes, see the free Guide to Growing Tomatoes from The Old Farmer’s Almanac.

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Reader Comments

Leave a Comment

Tomato dilemma please help need advice quick

Hi. I have a crazy but legitimate question. I was growing some tomatoes in flower pots approx. A foot deep some probably about 8 inches. I transplanted them a an old flower bed. Before I did so, I irrigated the ground and pulled all weeds up. I then layed black weed cloth down. I made a joke in ground about 10 in wide by about 8-10 inches deep. I put new topsoil in hole then transplanted tomato bush w it's miracle grow soil, I covered it very good then packed the soul around the plant, after that I added red mulch leaving about 8 inches around plant for watering. My problem is the cats poop in the bed, I've been told that's not good. Should I move the plants? I don't want to get a disease from eating bad tomatoes. Please respond quick I just planted them Friday evening, & Saturday morning. Thanks for your help!

Cats in Garden

The Editors's picture

Cat poop and urine can be damaging to plants and is dangerous to human health. However, as long as you remove it from the garden, it is unlikely to cause an issue. If the cats are pooping right around the base of the plant, consider putting up cages or wiring around the plants to keep them away. If the cats are going on the mulch, it will provide a good layer of protection and prevent the waste from directly getting into the soil, but you will still want to be diligent in removing any waste, as well as the mulch or soil immediately around it. Additionally, when you harvest the tomatoes, you should wash them thoroughly before consumption. Consider putting chicken wire or some other fencing around the entire garden bed to keep cats away. 

Tomatoes

We discovered Mountain Pride last year--a determinate tomato. By planting again in June or July, you have a hearty harvest all summer long. The plants grow to about five feet in height...produce a handsome, red tomato.

Beginner

I'm just a beginner Gardner So I think the best way to start with tomatoes is growing the Cherry Tomato - I do worry about those nasty tomato worms - Where do they even come from ?

Tomato worms

They come from the sphinx moth. The caterpillar is called a hornworm, which is quite large. They can eat all the leaves of your tomato plant over night. But if you look for them daily you can usually find them before too much damage is done. They are a handsome caterpillar. I garden organically so I just pick them off and give them to my chickens, which the chickens love. Probably not much fun for the caterpillar. But that's the way of nature. Fungus from over crowding or too wet a season is more deadly. Cherry tomatoes are great, and are wonderful in patio pots. last year I bought an unknown tomatoes plants from a local grocery store and had a beautiful harvest of medium size tomatoes. You never know what will happen. Good luck this year. I am counting the days until spring.

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