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How to pick the best tomatoes to plant in your garden

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Whether you enjoy tomatoes sliced, sauced, or cooked in your favorite recipe, they taste best when grown and harvested from your garden or container. With more than 10,000 varieties available it can be difficult to select the best ones to grow in your garden.

Start by looking for those varieties best suited to the intended use whether for slicing, cooking, preserving, or snacking. Most seed catalogs and websites as well as plant tags and garden centers provide recommendations.

Bite-sized tomatoes are great for salads, relish trays, and snacking. Trailing varieties like Lizzano, Tumbling Tom, Litt’l Bites Cherry and Red Robin also grow well in hanging baskets and even window boxes.

Paste and sauce tomatoes have meatier fruit making them perfect for sauces, soups, and preserving. Roma is the traditional favorite with an egg-shaped fruit that has thick walls and few seeds. The All-America Selections Early Resilience Roma has excellent disease and blossom end rot resistance and does not require staking. Use paste tomatoes during the growing season for sauces, chop and add them to an omelet, can or freeze them for future use.

Grow a few slicing tomatoes to enjoy on sandwiches, grilled, or on their own. Beefsteak and Better Boy are longtime favorites while Iron Lady, Galahad and the colorful Chef’s Choice series are more recent additions to this category.

Perhaps you are looking for an heirloom tomato, one that has been grown for more than 50 years and maintained its original traits and popularity. Cherokee Purple’s rich flavor constantly rates high in taste tests. Brandywine, Black Cherry, Chocolate Stripes, Amana Orange and Black Krim are also gardener favorites.

Coax reluctant veggie eaters of all ages to give tomatoes a try with some of the sweeter varieties like Sunsugar often called the candy of the garden. Consider having a taste test after growing a variety of super sweet tomatoes like Sungold, Super Sweet 100, Suncherry and Sunrise Bumble Bee.

Boost your success by selecting disease-resistant varieties and growing your tomatoes in full sun and moist well-drained soil. Plant tags, internet sources and catalog descriptions usually highlight this and other helpful information.

Look for tomato varieties suited to your growing conditions. Check with your University Extension for a list of recommended varieties for your area. You will also find helpful information on the best time to start tomato seeds indoors and when to place transplants in the garden.

Start enjoying the harvest sooner with fast-maturing tomatoes. These are perfect if you have a short growing season or are just anxious for your first garden-fresh tomato. Early Girl is a longtime favorite, Bush Early Girl produces more fruit on a compact plant, and New Girl produces bigger fruit and has better disease resistance. Glacier, Alaska and Juliet are a few of the many others to consider. Check the catalog description or plant tag for the number of days to harvest.

Select plants with the growth habit that best works with your garden space and gardening style. Determinate tomatoes are perfect for small space gardens and containers. They grow a certain height, stop growing, and produce their fruit over a relatively short time. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow throughout the season producing flowers and fruit until you prune out the tip or frost kills the plant. Stake or tower the plants to save space, reduce disease and insect problems, and make harvesting more convenient.

Gather your family and favorite recipes. Make a list of longtime favorites and new tomato varieties to include in this year’s garden. Be sure to save some space as you are likely to find a few additional varieties you just can’t resist planting this year.

Melinda Myers has written more than 20 gardening books, including Midwest Gardener’s Handbook, 2nd Edition and Small Space Gardening. She hosts The Great Courses “How to Grow Anything” instant video and DVD series and the nationally syndicated Melinda’s Garden Moment radio program. Myers is a columnist and contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Myers’ website is www.MelindaMyers.com.


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