Fall Tomatoes in Houston

by Donald Ray Burger
Attorney at Law

We can usually get a "second season" of tomatoes here in Houston. In my experience the crop is usually not as abundant as in the spring, but it is still definitely worth the effort.

If some of your spring tomato plants are still looking ok, they can produce a fall crop. You may have to cut them back some if they are too rangy. But don't automatically pull them up to make way for new plants. Evaluate each plant. If, after a little "grooming," it looks as good as a new plant in a four inch pot, give it a try. The price is surely right. And there is no biological reason the plant can't put on a fall crop.

Many nurseries have discovered that Houstonians want fall tomatoes, so plants in four inch pots or six-packs are available. I prefer the four inch pots. Plants are usually stronger, and the chances of survival in the summer heat are better. Generally, the number of varieties offered is smaller in the fall than in the spring. But there will still be enough to make it worthwhile.

So when do you plant? This will be controlled somewhat by when the nurseries get in their plants. Start looking in the second half of July. Try to have all your plants in by August 15th Why? Because the goal is to get the blooms set and the fruit ripe while temperatures are optimal. Tomatoes take two to three months to produce. That means we are looking at October or November, or even December. If the cold comes early you may be stuck with fried green tomatoes!

All varieties will produce tomatoes in the fall, if the weather stays nice. However, if you have several varieties to choose from, look for ones that produce in the sixty day range. Popular choices include Surefire and Heatwave. Buy several different varieties to plant. That way, if the weather permits, your tomatoes will ripen over a longer period of time instead of all at once. That stretches out the fall bounty, and may even make you popular with your neighbors. Cherry tomatoes are usually very reliable in the fall.

July is always hard on plants, especially newly planted ones. So you will have to water your new planting daily for the first couple of weeks before tapering off to once a week or so. Don't drown them, but give them a little drink every day at first. And mulch them with about three inches of mulch in a circle as big as the tomato cage. That will help with heat stress.

The birds aren't as bad in the fall as in the spring, but I still net my fall tomatoes. Otherwise, then can become very expensive bird food. Wait until you have some fruit set so you don't make pollination more difficult.

Good luck, and happy eating.

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