Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Peony 'Sarah Bernhardt'

Sunday, May 1, 2016

Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Portland

Hello gardening friends!

My garden report in the May edition of Concordia News came out this week. In case you don't live in the neighborhood, it was all about tips for successful organic tomato growing in Portland. Tomatoes are so beautiful and delicious. Did you know they are the number one gardening plant in the united states? They are!

I know tomato plants are available at nurseries and garden centers, please let me reinforce for the hundredth time, it is still TOO EARLY to plant tomatoes in Portland. They need night temperatures CONSISTENTLY above 55 degrees. That has not happened yet. In fact last week we had night temperatures in the low 40s. Typically night temperatures are 55 and above any time between May 15-June 1st.

Planting your tomatoes too early will result in stressed, stunted, and dead plants.

This is also the same for other heat loving vegetables: basil, beans, corn, cucumbers, eggplant, melons, peppers, pumpkins, tomatoes, tomatillos, summer squash, winter squash, zucchini. It is too early to plant these yet in your gardens without some kind of protection such as a frost blanket, cloche, cold frame, tunnel, or greenhouse.

Tomatoes are not difficult to grow if you keep in mind a few simple principles.

Tomatoes like warm weather. They need consistent minimal night temperatures of 55 degrees. In Portland this is typically between May 15-June 1. Planting your tomatoes too early will result in stunted or dead plants.

Tomatoes like warm soil. They need consistent soil temperatures of 60 degrees.

Plant your tomatoes into the garden by transplants/starts. Portland does not have a long enough or hot enough summer to facilitate direct seeding tomatoes. If you want to start tomatoes by seed start seeds indoors in mid-February.

Tomatoes like sun! Tomatoes need a full sun location, ideally south facing, where they receive 8-10 hours a day of sun. They will not set fruit in shady areas.

Tomatoes are "heavy feeders” and appreciate being planted with an organic granular fertilizer, which will slow release to your plants through out the season.

Tomatoes are prone to blossom end rot. To prevent the disease blossom end rot, add a calcium source into the planting hole, such as a spoonful each of rock phosphate or bone meal and lime.

Tomatoes have very long root systems (3-4 feet) and they need plenty of room to grow. Make sure your planting bed is deep enough for the tomato's roots.

Tomatoes are big plants and need proper spacing to thrive. Give the plants plenty of space between each other, at least 4 feet wide per plant.

Tomatoes need support. They have dense branches laden with heavy fruit. Install a tomato cage or other support system at planting time to prevent later damage to your plant.

Tomatoes don't need a lot of water. Be consistent with a deep watering a few times per week throughout the growing season. Inconsistent watering contributes to fruit splitting and blossom end rot.

Tomato plants take several months to produce in Portland. Expect your harvest to begin in late August and end in October when cold temperatures have set in.

Rotate your crops. Do not grow your tomatoes in the same place every year. This will create disease and pest problems. Use a 4-year rotation for all edible crops.

I'm looking forward to planting 5 tomato plants this year and can't wait until it has warmed up even more in just a few short weeks. Have you selected your tomato varieties? I look forward to hearing what you are going to plant this year!

Happy Gardening,

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