Early Start for Tomatoes

Tomatoes are a warm season crop for us in Las Vegas but we have a short tomato growing season because it quickly gets too hot for them.  Here are some tips to help extend your tomato season.

Tomatoes stop setting fruit once the temperature gets around 95 degrees or more consistently.  Some varieties may continue producing especially if they have afternoon shade but production slows down drastically.

According to our local cooperative extension, tomatoes can be planted late March thru early May but we can get an earlier start by using a season extender such as Walls of Water.  This is a circle of water filled tubes.  It’s placed around the plant and the tubes are filled with water so that it leans in and creates a cone over the plant.  The sun warms the water during the day which keeps the plant warm overnight.  As the night time temperatures get warmer, the tubes can be filled to the top to keep it open so that the plant doesn’t over heat during the day.  It will still provide some needed warmth during the nights.

 

Walls of Water

 

Once it’s warm enough to remove, just squeeze the water out of the tubes but do this in the morning.  If it’s done in the evening the water will be quite warm and can shock the plant.  The one time I did this, the plants recovered but they were very unhappy for a few weeks.  I usually wait to remove them until the overnight lows stay in the low to mid-50s.

When using a season extender I try to plant my tomatoes in early February.  Most local nurseries start stocking tomatoes in mid-February.  These need to be planted with a season extender.  It is still too cold at night to plant tomatoes without one.  If you don’t have a season extender, you can take your chances with planting early but be prepared to cover them well if the temperature is expected to drop below 40 degrees.  That will help protect them from potential frost but they’ll perform better with a season extender instead of just a frost blanket.

Another thing to keep in mind is “days to harvest”.  This count down starts when the transplant is planted in its final location.  Some tomato varieties have a long “days to harvest” period.  Look at a calendar and figure out when you can expect your first harvest.  When planting early using a season extender we want to try to start our harvest in early May.  If you buy a tomato plant in a nursery that doesn’t have “days to harvest” noted on the label, look it up online by searching for that particular variety.  I have seen some varieties sold locally at a time when the first expected harvest will be way too late into the summer.  These plants won’t do much until the weather cools again in the late summer.

Many people think that you can’t grow big beefsteak tomatoes here in Las Vegas.  We can but only by keeping in mind our short tomato growing season.  We need to plant early using season extenders and choose varieties that will give us our first harvest in early May.  Even if you’re not growing the huge varieties, you can still get a jump start on your tomatoes using these tips.

Happy Gardening!

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