Maybe you sit around and dream about tomatoes all day. Maybe you don’t and maybe you sacrilegiously buy them from Walmart in December AND store them in your refrigerator (!). Doesn’t matter because it is summer now and that means it is tomato season in New Orleans. Here in south Louisiana that is just code for the time of the year when maybe the only good thing about this blisteringly hot time of year are those little slices of summer that nestle into your salads and sandwiches. We are gathered here to talk about growing tomatoes because nothing can get a Louisiana gardener talking like growing tomatoes can. So drum roll please…This is TPG’s ultimate guide to growing tomatoes.
First of all, and only because it is interesting and has nothing to do with growing them, where did tomatoes come from? It is assumed that the tomato originated in Western South America. Wild versions of the tomato are still found in the coastal mountains of Chile, Ecuador, and Peru.
OK, so before you head out to your favorite New Orleans garden center (ahem, *cough*, TPG, *cough*), let’s pump the brakes for a second. You need to make sure that you have somewhere to put these babies. Tomatoes happen a lot like bringing your lunch to work happens, only with planning and some discipline. They need at least 6-8 hours of direct sunlight every day, good drainage and dirt to grow their roots deeply, and consistent, deep watering. Do you have a spot to plant them like a garden bed or raised garden bed? Check to make sure that it gets enough sunlight and access to water. Maybe you don’t? That’s OK! Me neither and so I grow my tomatoes in containers.
How to Grow Tomatoes in Containers:
Growing tomatoes in containers can be great! You can make sure they have the right growing conditions and possibly have them close to a hose for ease of watering. Additionally, the roots of your tomato plants are going to get warmer in containers and this usually yields faster and heavier harvests. There are three keys to growing tomatoes in a container.
- Only place one plant in one container, just trust, they get big.
- Use potting mix, not regular garden soil for proper health and drainage.
- Use containers that are deep enough for tomato roots. Yes, I know it is unsightly and makes me “that neighbor” but I drill holes in the bottom of 5 gallon buckets and have been using them for my tomatoes for years with great success. Now, you can use prettier containers but that deep container is the idea that you’re going for.
Other Supplies for Growing Tomatoes:
- Garden bed or container plus potting mix soil
- Tomatoes (seeds or transplants)
- Staking and any garden tie that you need: You can use stakes or cages if you prefer
- Mulch helps to retain moisture in soil and helps with pest management
- Fertilizer, preferably for specific to vegetables
Seeds vs. Transplants:
If this is your first time growing tomatoes, we highly recommend planting transplants, which is garden speak for “young plants.” If you are seasoned and want to try growing tomatoes from seed, you can do so quite successfully. However, seeds must be started back in early, early spring and transplants should get in the ground by the middle of May for successful tomatoes. Of course, since it is so hot for so long in Louisiana, we are lucky in that we can put more tomatoes in the ground in September and get a fall crop of tomatoes too! So deciding between seeds and transplants is really a game of experience and timing. If you are only now buying your tomatoes, get transplants and buy local tomato plants for the best plant health.
Types of Tomatoes:
Tomatoes that do well in southeast Louisiana are what we sell in the garden center and are the most popular varieties, so those are the types that we will get into today. Tomatoes can be divided up into the following main types:
- Cherry Tomatoes
- Roma Tomatoes
- Medium Canning size Tomatoes
- Large Slicing “Beefsteak” Tomatoes
Tomatoes also come in many different shapes but also in different colors:
- Black and Purple
In Southeastern Louisiana, the following are tried and tested winners and most popular in our garden center:
- Super Sweet 100s Cherry Tomato – A small size sweet red cherry tomato
- Texas Yellow Pear Tomato – A unique, mellow tasting yellow cherry tomato with a pear shape
- Celebrity Tomato – A solid, red, canning size tomato
- Creole Tomato – Medium size red tomato, technically needs to be grown in Plaquemines or St. Bernard parish to be a true Creole tomato.
- Cherokee Purple Tomato – Lovely, medium size sweet purple tomato
- Phoenix Tomato – High Heat tolerant, if you’re a procrastinator, these guys are for you.
Plant your tomatoes with enough space for each plant, lightly fertilize according to the fertilizer package’s directions, mulch the soil surrounding the plant and prepare to stake or cage your tomato plant. Water deeply each day. That’s it right? Well, we wish but most gardeners know that there is so much more to growing tomatoes than that. And yes, if you’re thinking, who in their right mind would do all this, yeah, I’m not quite so sure either!
As your tomato plant grows, you will need to lightly tie the main stalk so that it is supported by the stake. And then tie, tie again (sorry I had to!).
Additionally, you can also remove the little suckers or side shoots that grow at the nodes (see picture below). The thought is that, by removing the suckers, you remove any extraneous energy the plant would have used so that it can focus it’s energy on growing the fruit and main stalk. Not removing the suckers, however, will not negatively affect the plant.
When watering, try to water at the base of the plant and keep the foliage of the plant as dry as possible. Constant water can flush nutrients out of container grown plants, so fertilize as needed.
Pests and Problems – Yes, sometimes things can go wrong and you walk out one day to find some kind of pest has gotten into your plant. No fear! There are many products out there to remedy your problem. Just make sure that you take a picture and show it to your local garden center for help on remedying the problem.
The best part! Harvesting your tomatoes. Since they are so awesome, you need to pick ’em when they are ripe or just about to be ripe so no other critters get to them. You can pick them a little early and let them ripen on your counter. Speaking of the counter, that is where you should store your tomatoes. Not. In. The. Refrigerator. We repeat, not in the refrigerator, they will get a mealy texture if you do. Homegrown tomatoes are so amazing that you don’t need much beyond a little olive oil, salt and pepper and voila! Enjoy them plain or in a variety of other recipes!
Whew! Told you we could talk about tomatoes. That is it for now but get those tomatoes in the ground right now before it is too hot here in Louisiana (yes, that’s a thing)! Growing tomatoes is a beautiful process and yields some of the best tasting slices of summer you’ve ever had. Get out there and grow!
Thanks for reading and come visit us in the garden center at 9401 Airline Drive in New Orleans or call us at (504) 488-8887. Visit us online at