My tomatoes are going gangbusters thanks to planting in July.
Updated: Mar 2, 2020
I've heard for years that it was a good idea to pull and replace stressed tomato plants once the heat caused them to stop setting fruit. It's a really hard thing to do and I never did until this year.
Now that I've gone through the process of removing and replanting in the summer, I'm a convert. I'll do this every year for my beefsteak varieties. Cherry tomatoes continue producing later so I'll keep those plants.
What I'm growing are typically called "fall tomatoes," but don't let this title fool you. Putting tomato plants in the ground during fall will lead to frustration because it will freeze long before the plants reach maturity. Blooms might happen before a freeze, but fruit will not be ripe.
July is the time to plant fresh tomato plants for a fall crop.
Here's the run-down:
Rip - remove tired plants after the fruits ripen, sooner if pest issues are killing them
Rest - give the soil a rest for a week or two to encourage pests to move on before replanting
Replant - new plants should go into the garden during the first half of July (slightly later in longer growing seasons with high heat)
How on earth did I ever get up the courage to try this? It was an unusually bad year for spider mites in my garden and my hand was forced. I had to pull the affected plants, mostly beefsteaks, to prevent them from harming the cherry tomato plants. I rely on the cherry tomatoes for salads through the summer because they typically produce all season, except in the most extreme 100+ degree temps, and I wasn't willing to gamble with their health.
So, I did it. The unthinkable. I pulled out a half-dozen beefsteak plants (Cherokee Purple, Lemon Boy, and Vorlon) as soon as the last fruit ripened. I had a pit in my stomach and had to stop myself from tumbling down a frustration spiral. I was upset that I needed to pull these plants after tending them for the many weeks they'd been residents of my garden.
I stepped back, changed my thinking, and pointed out to my inner monologue that this had been a good tomato growing spring. I'd tested some hypotheses about why I had mediocre success with beefsteaks before and learned from the process. I'll be a better tomato grower forever, even if these plants had to be removed.
That shift in thinking had me in the right mental place for fall tomatoes when, at just the right planting time, I came across some fresh Cherokee Purple tomato plants at The Home Depot. I kept the spider mite issue in mind and decided that I could find space for four plants in different spots around the garden to prevent these new plants from falling victim too.
It seemed cruel to put these tender little babies in the ground in early July, which is the appropriate planting time for fall tomatoes in central Oklahoma. They were unfazed.
The fall tomatoes (July planted) seem to be growing a little shorter with lots more foliage along the stems than the Cherokee Purple plants I grew in the spring. They will also far surpass spring production. I'm considering making Cherokee Purple a fall only variety in my garden because they are outperforming their spring-planted siblings by leaps and bounds.
What can I plant now?
If you read this and thought, "Great. It's September. What can I plant now if I can't plant fall tomatoes in the fall?" have no fear. Leafy greens can be started from seed in September. Once mature, most leafy greens will survive light frosts with hardier ones tolerating temps down to or below 28 degrees F. Throw an old bedsheet or frost cloth over them on the coldest nights and they'll last through most of the winter. Often, they'll survive until spring when they'll bolt (bloom and set seeds) as the ground begins to warm and days get longer.
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