How to Grow (Late Season) Tomatoes
For most of the rest of the country, May and June comprise the season to plant tomatoes for that first crop of juicy, home-grown flavor.
Here in North Florida, it’s the time to wrap up the harvest of early tomatoes and sow seeds indoors to prepare for the second crop of tomatoes.
TIP 1: It generally takes eight weeks from planting seed to transplanting tomato seedlings, so planting seeds indoors in flats or seed-starting pots in June means they’ll be ready to move outdoors into the garden in late August or early September. Make sure to select determinate, early ripening varieties for your late crop.
TIP 2: Start your transplants indoors under grow lights, then move them outdoors to a shady area once they have two sets of true leaves. Move them into a sunny area for several hours a day to get them used to outdoor growing conditions for a couple of weeks.
TIP 3: Transplant them into the garden in late August or early September, covering the planting bed with shade cloth or old umbrellas for a few days while the plants adjust to outdoor conditions. Use tomato stakes or cages to keep the plants off the ground. Remove the shade protection after three or four days.
TIP 4: Be prepared to protect your late-season tomatoes in case of an early frost. You can toss old bedsheets over the plants, then cover the sheets with plastic. Make sure the cover goes all the way to the ground and the plastic isn’t touching the plants; contact can damage the leaves.
'Mater Menace Bagging Hornworms
Tomato hornworms attack tomatoes as well as eggplants, peppers and potatoes, all warm weather crops that are members of the nightshade family. The caterpillars are green, three to six inches long with a horn-like tail that gives the pest its name. They feed on the leaves of the plants they attack, leaving dark green or black droppings. Left unchecked, they can destroy the fruit as well as the leaves. Hand-picking is the best way to manage tomato hornworms, dropping them into a container of soapy water to kill them. You can also drop them into a plastic newspaper bag — after removing the newspaper, of course — smothering them by tying a knot in the top of the bag. Checking your plants after getting your paper out of the driveway each morning makes for an easy-to-follow routine. Natural enemies include braconid wasps, which lay eggs that form white projections on the top of the tomato hornworms. If you see these projections, leave the caterpillars alone and let nature take its course.
Your Monthly Garden Chores
- Water your lawn and garden beds. For new plantings, water every day or two. For lawns and established garden beds, apply at least half an inch once a week.
- Plant warm-season vegetable seeds such as okra, butter beans, pole beans and melons in full sun areas. Continue to set out tomato plants, as well as various varieties of basil. Make sure they get at least six hours of direct sun a day.
- Plant a habitat for butterflies including buddleia (butterfly bush), asclepias (butterfly milkweed), lantana, verbena, purple coneflower (echinacea), pentas and plumbago in full sun. Remember that some butterflies prefer shade, including Florida’s state butterfly, the zebra longwing. Luckily, some plants do well in part-shade as well as sun, including azaleas, firebush, blueberries, cardinal flower, blazing star and some salvias.
- Fertilize citrus this month.
- Now is the time to plant palms. Saw palmetto, bush palmetto, European fan palm and windmill palm do well in our area.
- Fertilize bulbs that have finished blooming. Leave the dying foliage until has died back completely; it is storing food for next year’s flowers.
- Mulch planting beds 2 to 3 inches deep to keep soil temperature cooler and discourage weeds. Make sure the mulch doesn’t touch the base of the plants and trees. Use whatever is readily available to you: pine straw, pine bark or leaves.
©2016 PostScript Publishing, all rights reserved. Audrey Post is a certified Advanced Master Gardener volunteer with the University of Florida/IFAS Extension in Leon County. Email her at Questions@MsGrowItAll.com or visit her website at msgrowitall.com. Ms. Grow-It-All® is a registered trademark of PostScript Publishing.