Is it hard for you to think about planting tomatoes when it seems like just a few weeks ago you may have pulled up the last of your spring-planted veggies? Although it may be difficult to envision, fall tomatoes need to be planted in late summer. We are blessed to have two great growing seasons here in San Antonio but they are relatively short. This makes planting your vegetables at the correct time extremely important. Read up on our tips for successfully growing fall tomato plants, then come on in and choose from our early tomato selections already arriving at the nursery.
5 Tips for Growing Fall Tomatoes in San Antonio
1. Choose the right type of tomatoes. Smaller tomato types tend to do better setting fruit in the heat. With larger varieties, by the time it’s cooled off enough for them to begin to set fruit, a looming frost is usually right around the corner.
- If you prefer the larger tomatoes, planting early is even more crucial. Check our blue signs for the days to harvest listed for each tomato type and count forward from there to see the risk for planting and getting a harvest before a frost. Our average first frost date is usually around November 23, but you never know with our crazy weather patterns in San Antonio.
Pictured: Grape and cherry tomatoes do great planted in fall.
2. Plant your tomatoes at the right time of the year. Fall tomatoes should be planted no later than Sept 1st – 15th here in San Antonio. In spring, if you plant tomatoes too early, you risk a late frost nipping them before they grow out of the transplant stage; but in fall, if you plant too late, an early frost can bite your tomato plants before you get a chance to bite one yourself! Bonus: a second round of peppers, eggplant, and squash can be planted now too! It’s like a second spring!
3. Plant tomatoes deeply and water the same. Tomatoes are one of the few plants that benefit from being planted deeper than their rootball. Remove the lower couple sets of leaves on your tomato transplants and bury your plant to the point right above where you removed the leaves. Be hyper-vigilant about making sure that your tomato transplants are getting adequate water when planting in late summer. Water your garden or pots deeply a day or two before planting to give your tomatoes a great moist start to their roots. After planting, keep in mind that tomato roots run deep so focus your watering around the roots and make sure you are watering deep enough to reach them. Mulching your newly planted tomatoes helps retain their soil moisture.
Pictured: I am going to remove these two lower branches I’m pointing at and I’ll plant my tomato down into the soil to the point right above them.
4. Protect your early tomatoes. Here’s how you get around the heat of the summer when planting your fall tomatoes. Offer your tomatoes some shade during the hottest part of the day. You can achieve this by making a simple lean-to with cardboard and placing it on the west side of your tomato plants where the sun hits hard in the afternoons, or by using a lightweight row cover that will filter out some of the extreme sunlight. If you skip protecting your tomato plants from the sun, prepare to be growing a scorched twig.
5. Pinch out side shoots on indeterminate tomatoes. You do not have to do this! Some gardeners say, more limbs, more tomatoes. I think mine perform and produce better when I pinch them out. I’ve had some look like big wooly mammoths when I haven’t done it, and it makes it hard for me to really see what’s going on on every inch of my plant. (Yes, I inspect it that closely. Side shoots are those small, extra leaflets and branches that form in the crooks between the main tomato stem and main tomato branches.
You don’t even have to remove all of them. You can remove some on the bottom half to create a stronger central stem, and then pinch out a few here and there towards the top as your tomato plant grows to keep it from getting top heavy and unruly. Again, you don’t have to pinch out the suckers, but I’ve grown too many indeterminate tomatoes that have had stems broken from the plant getting unruly and top heavy.
I generally focus more on pinching shoots out of indeterminate tomatoes and don’t worry as much about them on determinate tomato plants. Their mature size definitely is a factor in my decision for that.
Pictured: I’m pointing at a side shoot. See how it is right in the crook between the main stem and a branch? There is even one on the right side of the plant that is visible too. This is a Red Large Cherry tomato which is an indeterminate variety.
Don’t think you can only be eating fresh tomatoes in May, no way! Plant now to harvest and enjoy fresh, juicy ‘maters this fall!
~The Happy Gardener, Lisa Mulroy