Smart Starts for Starter Tomato Plants

Smart Starts for Starter Tomato Plants

Imagine the herb and citrus scent of the leaves: The ripe, juicy flesh that quenches your thirst.

If you’re anticipating a tomato feast this summer you need to get planting. Even if you’ve never grown tomatoes before you’ll find it’s easy to get the flavor, aroma and thrill of a tomato harvest.

Many gardeners start their crops from seed in the early spring. However, you can start yours now with tomato plants that are available in farmers markets, supermarkets and garden supply stores.

Although jumpstarting your harvest with plants instead of seeds has some advantages, you need to make judicious selections. Otherwise your crop will wither before you can pick the fruit.

When shopping, select a plant that’s short and stocky, says Charlie Nardozzi, horticulturist with the National Gardening Association, South Burlington, Vt.

Despite the obvious appeal of a tomato that’s already flowering, stifle the urge, Nardozzi says. The tomato may be advanced at this point, but the fruit will take longer to develop and your harvest will be later.

Another indicator of a later bloomer is a tomato plant with long winding roots inside the pot.

“That means the plant has been sitting there for a long time and will suffer transplant shock. It will take a long time to start growing,” Nardozzi says.

Since savvy tomato buyers may have gotten the best plants, you probably have to choose among ragged leftovers. Don’t worry, says the gardening expert.

“Even if the plants are tall and leggy, bury the tomato so you have the top four inches or so. The tomato will root all along the stem and will catch up.”

Add plenty of compost to the soil and fertilize, especially if your plant is scraggly, you’ll get an end-of-season bargain.

If you live in a warm region you can start tomatoes from seed until early July. Grape and cherry tomatoes take from 65 to 80 days and full-size tomatoes anywhere from 60 to 90 days, giving you an even greater variety to choose from.

One of this year’s favorites is black cherry, which is shaped like a typical cherry tomato but with a dark mahogany color, says Linda Sapp, spokesperson for Tomato Growers Supply Company, Fort Myers, Fla.

“It’s a very rich flavor and great color,” says Sapp.

Gardeners also like grape tomatoes.

“It’s something you can buy in any supermarket but that people love to grow. The ones that you pick in the backyard are far superior to what’s in a grocery store,” Sapp says.

In the full-size category, Sapp says consumers are buying Sudduth’s Strain of Brandywine tomato. This is an heirloom variety that tomato lovers rave about.

“When you have a slice of Brandywine by itself or in a sandwich, you have the best that summer has to offer,” Sapp says.

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