JoAnne Skelly: The ever popular tomato

Gardeners like to grow tomatoes. There are over 2,000 varieties available worldwide. Many are hybrids. Hybrid tomatoes were initially bred to reduce disease problems and increase yield. Now, breeders focus on developing varieties that not only resist diseases and other problems, but also taste good. Some popular hybrids include “Early Girl,” “Celebrity,” “Big Boy” or “Better Boy.” In addition to these main season varieties, there are also big beefsteak tomatoes, small cherry tomatoes, such as ‘Sweet 100,’ grape tomatoes, and paste tomatoes. If hybrids are not your preference, traditional heirloom tomatoes are quite popular now. While they may or may not have natural disease resistance, they are known for good old-fashioned flavor and often-interesting appearance.

Beyond normal varietal differences or hybrid versus heirloom, a northern Nevada gardener must consider how quickly a particular tomato matures in order to get ripe tomatoes in our short growing season. The average last frost date varies. In some places, it’s the first week of May, in others it may be the first week of June. Coupled with a variable first frost date of Sept. 1 to Oct. 1, the shorter the maturity date, the more likely it is that a gardener will have ripe tomatoes before the first freeze. I prefer tomatoes with 50 day or less growing season.

There are two types of vines, indeterminate or determinate. With indeterminate, the vine grows throughout the growing season producing large plants and extending fruit production until frost kills the vine. With determinate types, vines stop growing when flowering begins, so these plants are moderate in size. Determinates put out a large single crop, almost all at once, and then they are done.

You can reduce disease incidence by trellising plants for good air circulation. Mulching around each plant will conserve soil moisture and reduce weeds. Water the soil rather than the leaves of the plant. With a good amount of organic matter in the soil, tomatoes need little nitrogen (N). If there is too much N, it will cause plants to grow an abundance of leaves but few flowers. However, with too little N, the disease Early Blight may develop. Fortunately, there are many tomato fertilizers available, either organic or inorganic.

Getting fruit to set is sometimes challenging because tomato blossoms abort when daytime temperatures reach 90 degrees by 10 a.m. and pollen fails to develop if nighttime temperatures drop below 55 degrees.

For more information on growing tomatoes, see

JoAnne Skelly is Associate Professor & Extension Educator, Emerita, at University of Nevada Cooperative Extension. She can be reached at


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