Just picture it come summer: Tomato plants, tall and lush, brimming with red fruits just waiting for you to pick, take indoors and enjoy. For some people I know, this is the big moment of the garden year because nothing beats a home-grown tomato.
And now is the moment to prepare for that great time by selecting and setting out young tomato plants sold in garden centers. Dare I say that nothing is more fun?
That is because the range of choices is huge with something for everybody. It is true whether you have a patio or balcony garden with plants in large pots or a vegetable bed with plenty of space. That brings everyone into the picture.
Though reasonably easy to grow in the Piedmont, many kinds of tomatoes are prone to wilts, spots and other diseases that affect the health and production of the plants. That is why, when shopping, you should look for modern varieties that have been bred with resistance to these diseases. These advances have produced varieties that should be the top choices, especially for gardeners who detest spraying.
Growers have made it easy for us to find those with important clues on the tags that identify the plant by variety. Most often you see the letters VF, which means the variety possesses resistance to two damaging fungal diseases, verticillium and fusarium wilts. Some varieties include resistance to even more blights and leaf spots. Celebrity is one of them, with a long string of letters that has made it one of the most popular of the modern varieties for performance and taste.
There are, however, some varieties that cannot be overlooked by the serious tomato gardener. Two examples are Brandywine and Cherokee Purple, which are heirloom varieties that bear fruit of exceptional taste. They will require close attention to watering and spraying with fungicide to reduce the problem.
And whether your choice is a modern or an heirloom, watering the plants regularly at ground level instead of from overhead, is very important. Tomatoes require even watering so that wilting is avoided. Wilting is detrimental to both the foliage and the developing fruit and can lead to a problem called blossom-end rot.
This problem, which causes blackened areas on the blossom-end (opposite the stem end) of the tomato is caused by calcium deficiency. Using a tomato fertilizer that contains calcium such as Tomato-Tone and even watering will avoid this problem, which can turn the most beautiful tomato into one that isn’t much of a picture.
Q. I noticed a plant they call angelonia last year, which seemed to stand up very well to the heat. What do you think of it?
A. I think a lot of angelonia and am glad you noticed how well it performed in a hot summer. I was surprised, since the flowers have a rather delicate look. The appearance is gentler than, for example, lantana, which is another great performer for a hot spot. Both should be top choices for flowerbeds and pots this spring, because another hot summer seems likely.