Tomatoes Garden Guide

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Tomatoes are one of the most popular garden varieties grown in the U.S. They are also one of the easiest summer crops to grow for experts and beginners alike. Like all vegetable crops, there are guidelines to follow to get the best success.

Growth Habits

  • Determinate - Means plant growth that stops before the end of the season, usually ending in flowers & fruits. Examples include tomatoes, bush beans, and peppers. Determinate types typically grow 2-4 ft. tall.
  • Indeterminate - Means growth and production continue all season until stopped by frost. "Vining" types. Examples include tomatoes, pole beans, and vining peas. Indeterminates can grow 6 ft. tall or more.
  • Semi or Dwarf - These are tomato types that have compact growth habit. Semi-indeterminates keep producing but stay smaller. Dwarf-determinates stay quite small, good for containers.
  • Open Pollinated (OP) - This means plants with shared pollen can produce fruits whose seeds can be saved and grown out the next season, which will produce similar types of fruits.
  • Hybrid - These are man-made crosses whose fruits will yield seeds that are sterile or when grown out will produce plants and fruits that are not similar to the original hybrid type.

    NOTE: Hybrids are NOT GMOs. A hybrid is simply a plant produced by physically hand cross-pollinating two distinct parent plants of different varieties. Taking pollen from one and transferring it to the flower of the other to yield seed offspring. This is done in a careful, controlled way, but in the field with living and blooming plants, not in a lab using DNA material under a microscope.

  • Heirloom/Heritage - These are typically open-pollinated varieties that have been in circulation for 50 years or more. Heirloom has no reference to quality. It is a time of cultivation designation. OP heirlooms have no in-bred disease resistance.
  • GMO (genetically modified organism) is a plant, animal, or microorganism whose genetic makeup has been modified or manipulated in a laboratory using genetic engineering or transgenic technology.

    NOTE: We DO NOT offer any GMO seeds or plants.

Days to Maturity

This refers to the average number of days to first fruits from transplant, not from seed sowing.

  • Main Season - Plants reach maturity at 70-80 days from transplanting.
  • Late Season - Plants that reach maturity 80 days or longer from transplanting. Best for long growing season locations.
  • Early Season - Plants that mature 65 days or less from transplant. Good for early harvest, areas with shorter growing seasons, and indoor or hydroponic culture.

Tomato Flavors

  • Balanced Flavor - Tomato flavor is subjective. "Real" tomato flavor translates to a balanced tomato flavor.
  • Balanced - Fruits that have an equal amount of acid & sugar content.
  • Acid/Tart - Fruits with stronger acidic or tart flavor than sweet.

    NOTE: The actual amount of acidity (pH) of tomato fruit varies very little between acidic and sweet-flavored types. Or you can say there is a minute difference between tart & sweet flavors. It is a higher sugar content that determines how sweet a fruit tastes compared to the actual acidity level (pH).

  • Mild - Fruits with neither strongly acid/tart or sweet.
  • Sweet - Fruits with a sweeter flavor than tart. The higher the sugar content the lower the perceivable acid flavor.
  • Complex or Rich - Some varieties, such as black, purple, bi-colored, or striped varieties have more complex flavors that cannot be described simply as sweet or tart but may not necessarily taste balanced either.


  • Perfect Flowers - Tomato blooms contain both male and female parts in the same flower. They are able to self-pollinate one another. These types of blooms are referred to as "perfect".
  • Parthenocarpic - A few varieties are able to form seedless fruits without pollination. Common in cucumbers but also in a few tomato varieties like 'Oregon Spring'.
  • Tomato Pollen - This is heavy and sticky so rainy weather or overhead irrigation can have adverse effects on pollination. So too, can temperature. As temperatures rise in summer pollen becomes less and less viable, eventually becoming completely sterile around 85°F. Low temperatures in early spring can also cause issues.

Leaf Types

  • Regular - Typical, divided tomato leaf shape. Observable in most tomato varieties.
  • Regular Wispy - Characteristic of oxheart varieties and some paste types. Like a regular leaf, thinner lobes often have a semi-drooping appearance which can make plants look slightly wilty. Foliage may be somewhat sparse.
  • Potato-Leaf - Refers to tomato varieties that form smooth-edged leaves, not serrated or "regular" leaves.
  • Rugose - Pertaining to certain tomato varieties that have wrinkled, corrugated-like leaves.

Grafted Tomatoes

Grafting is becoming more common for herbaceous vegetable plants. Just like woody fruit and ornamental trees, grafting involves choosing a more tolerant, vigorous, disease-resistant rootstock to physically conjoin a productive and desirable top fruiting variety (scion).

  • Grafted tomato plants are intended for and best suited for in-ground planting rather than containers.
  • The rootstock used for our grafted tomatoes provides soil-borne disease resistance from Corky root rot, Fusarium wilt races 1 & 2, Fusarium crown & root rot, Verticillium wilt, Nematodes, and Tomato mosaic virus.
  • However, grafted tomato plants can still be affected by air-borne fungal diseases.

    NOTE: DO NOT bury the grafted portion of the stem. Leave the graft union above the soil surface.

  • Staking or utilizing a trellising system is needed early on with grafted tomato plants for support.
    • For determinate types, utilize stakes or cages.
    • For indeterminate types, utilize a trellis or wire cordon system for the best support.
  • Resist over-fertilizing which promotes extra foliage and impedes or delays fruit production.
  • Proper pruning for grafted tomatoes is critical for good fruit production.
    • Do not allow suckers to grow from below the graft.
    • Determinate types should have foliage lifted to 10-12 in. off the ground. Additionally pinching first-formed blossom sets is also encouraged, allowing plants to become well-established.
    • Indeterminate types require controlled pruning to help reduce disease & pest pressure, limit foliage growth, and improve necessary air circulation while encouraging flower & fruit production.
  • NOTE: Due to the extra care and effort needed, grafted tomato plants may not be suitable for casual gardeners.

Fruit Classifications

  • Slicer - Largest fruit type, typically used for fresh eating.
  • Saladette - In between a cherry and slicer in size (about 2 oz.). Can be round or oval-shaped.
  • Campari - Also referred to as "tomatoes-on-the-vine". Noted for juicy, sweet, lower acid flavor with a less meaty texture. Deep red, round, or globe-shaped fruits are larger than cherry types, and usually smaller than plum types.
  • Paste - Roma type, generally plum-shaped. Tend to be more meaty, with less juice which makes them good for cooking and processing.
  • Cherry - Small and sweet flavored fruits, generally have a juicy texture, said to "pop" when you bite them.
  • Grape - Small, plum, pear, or oval-shaped with sweet flavor with a meaty texture.

Disease Codes

Tomatoes can be infected by a wide range of plant diseases. To combat these diseases, breeders have hand-crossed or hybridized tomatoes to be resistant to specific common garden diseases. Resistance is expressed in a Code System internationally recognized to make it quick and easy to know which diseases, if any, a cultivar may be equipped with.

Common Tomato Disease Codes:

  • V = Verticillium wilt
  • F = Fusarium wilt (multiple races exist) F = 1 race FF = Race 1&2 resistant. FFF = Race 1,2,&3
  • N = Nematodes
  • T or TMV = Tobacco mosaic virus
  • A = Alternaria
  • St = Stemphylium (Gray Leaf Spot - GLS)
  • TSWV = Tomato spotted wilt virus
  • ToMV = Tomato mosaic virus
  • BS = Bacterial Speck
  • EB = Early Blight
  • LB = Late Blight
  • YLCV = Yellow Leaf Curl Virus

NOTE: Codes indicate the variety has high resistance (HR). Some varieties may also have (IR) intermediate resistance to other diseases that are not given codes but written physical descriptions can indicate this moderate resistance.