The Tomato Challenge
- Written By Charlotte Glen
If you have had little success with tomatoes, don't take it personally. Tomatoes are tough to grow in the coastal south. Summer heat causes problems with ripening, fruit set, and flavor, yet allows diseases and pests to thrive. While we can't change the weather, there are some things that can be done at planting time to increase your chances of success.
Tomatoes grow and produce best when daytime temperatures range from 70 to 80 degrees, and night temperatures fall between 60 to 70 degrees. Most of our summer days far exceed these spring like temperatures, causing plants to shed their blossoms without setting fruit. Fruits that do ripen when high's reach into the mid 90's have less flavor, ripen unevenly, and often develop hard white areas inside their flesh. Planting tomatoes as early as possible will give plants more time to grow and produce under ideal temperatures before the hottest part of summer.
Soil temperatures have warmed sufficiently throughout our area for tomatoes making now the time to plant. Keep in mind light frosts are a possibility through the middle of April, so be prepared to protect plants if temperatures in the 30's are predicted. Covering plants with an old sheet or specially made row covers will protect them down to 30 degrees. Make sure covers extend fully to the ground and are well anchored.
Tomatoes are one of the few vegetables that have the ability to produce roots along their stem. Because of this, setting the root ball two or three inches deeper than soil level at planting time will result in plants with larger, more extensive root systems. If you have plants with long leggy stems, do not bury the roots several inches deep. Instead, dig a shallow trench and plant them lying sideways, so the leggy part of the stem is planted horizontally two to three inches below soil level. Allow the top six to ten inches of the plant to stick up out of the soil. You can make a mound of soil at the end of the trench to help the top part of the plant tilt upward, but don't worry if it is not perfectly vertical to start with. The sun will draw the plants upright within a few days.
Tomatoes grow best in deep, rich soils so be sure to amend your garden with compost before planting. Space tomato plants at least three feet apart and place a cage around plants to support them as they grow. Mulching the soil under and around tomatoes will help keep soil moisture even and prevent soil temperatures from getting too hot.
Plant Several Varieties
There are a plethora of different varieties of tomatoes available, including heirlooms, cherry tomatoes, and the typical round red types. Cherry tomatoes are the easiest to grow and every garden should include at least a few of these highly productive plants. Many people love the flavor of heirlooms but not all heirlooms produce well in our summer heat. If you would like to try heirlooms look for 'German Johnson' or 'Homestead', both of which produce well in the south.
Of the modern round large fruited tomato types 'Celebrity' and 'Better Boy' are favorites for the south. Both produce medium to large size fruits and are resistant to fusarium and nematodes, two common soil dwelling diseases that attack tomato roots. For even more disease resistance include a couple of varieties that are resistant to tomato spotted wilt virus, such as 'Southern Star', 'Amelia', or 'Crista'. Planting disease resistant varieties will increase your chance of success, but keep in mind no one tomato variety is resistant to all, or even most, of the diseases that commonly plague this popular crop.
If you have room, plant tomatoes in several different spots around your yard, rather than all together in one bed. Avoid planting tomatoes in the same location year after year since this allows diseases to build up. If you have had problems with tomato wilt diseases in the past, consider potting plants in large containers filled with potting soil. Whether you plant in containers or garden beds, be sure to apply a slow release fertilizer when you plant. Slow release fertilizers include organic fertilizers like Plant Tone as well as time release products like Osmocote. Supplementing plants with liquid fertilizers like compost tea or Miracle Gro for the first few weeks after planting will help them establish quickly, but there is no need to liquid feed plants all season. In fact, over fertilizing reduces fruit set and encourages problems like blossom end rot.
How is Gardening Therapeutic for our 5 Senses-Hear, See, Taste, Touch, Smell!
Master Gardener Volunteer Onslow County
BS Health Fitness Specialist
MA Health Education and Promotion
It is a beautiful spring morning as I walk out into my backyard to do my morning gardening I
a cardinal chirping
two butterflies mating
the yummy lettuce I have grown
the rich soil I have created from composting
my herbs and flowers in my yard
Next time you garden set your intentions to be in the
and you will feel your senses come alive and reap the benefits of a
Now more than ever during this coronavirus pandemic, gardening can relieve stress, give you a sense of accomplishment, save you money on groceries, allow you to eat healthy, gets you physically active and most importantly puts a smile on your face!
Are you looking for the right plant for your landscape?
Do you have challenging site conditions, such as excess shade, poor drainage, or full sun with very dry soils?
The NC Extension Gardener Plant Toolbox can help!
and follow the instructions below
Click on "Find a Plant" at the top left of the screen
A number of filters will appear on the left hand side of the screen
Select the filters that fit your site and the list of plants will narrow down to some great options for your landscape!
(Remember, we are in Zone 8a in Onslow County
Many of our programs have been cancelled due to COVID 19, but we will be scheduling some classes virtually and when possible, in person programs will be scheduled.
Stay tuned to our social media and website for upcoming classes and events.
Use your smart phone's camera to scan the QR code above to get the links to all of our social media pages, and websites!
Thank you for your understanding, and we hope to see you soon!
May Tips and Tasks
- Let spring flowering bulbs die back naturally. They need to manufacture enough food to support next year's blooms.
- Plant warm season annuals such as coleus, portulacas, petunias, and sweet potato vine.
- Plant warm-season vegetables like okra, eggplant, melons, and sweet potatoes now.
- Start monitoring squash and zucchinis for squash-vine borer and be prepared to treat in mid-May.
- Apply 2-3 inches of mulch around plants to help conserve moisture and suppress weeds.
For Your Lawn
- Make sure your mower blades are sharpened and leveled for the mowing season.
- Leave grass clippings on the lawn- it returns nutrients to the soil.
- Aerate lawns only if soil is compacted and while grass is actively growing.
- Visit https://www.turffiles.ncsu.edu/ for specific information on management of different types of turf, weed management, and more.
For Your Trees and Shrubs
- If needed, prune spring blooming shrubs like azaleas after bloom and no later than mid-July.
- Monitor for pests such as scale insects so that you can treat as necessary when they are in a vulnerable stage.
If you have concerns with insects or diseases on your plants, send an email to
Our Facebook Gardening Video Series
Episodes 1-6 are now streaming!
Episode 1: Different Types of Gardening
Episode 2: Gardening in Containers
Episode 3: Potting Mix
Episode 4: Seed Storage & Germination
Episode 5: Succulents
May 7th, 2020 at 12PM EST
Episode 6: Harvesting Salad Veggies/Fresh Salad Recipe
Farms, Farmers Markets and Garden Centers are Essential (and Open for) Business
A lot has changed in the last month. For many of us, we have seen changes in how we live, work and shop. One thing that hasn't changed, is that local farms, farmers markets and garden centers are (mostly) still open. These businesses are considered essential services in accordance with statewide stay at home orders.
These businesses are allowed to continue operating because they fall into several important key areas. For one thing, these are businesses in which it is possible to maintain adequate social distance up to the point of sale. Many of these businesses are essential for food production. Farmers markets, farm stands and u-pick operations are critical aspects of our food supply chain, just like grocery stores while garden centers supply essential services for industries like agriculture.
That said, these businesses have all adapted to further protect customers and their employees health during the COVID-19 pandemic. Some farms are offering an option to preorder by phone or text and then have your order delivered to the car when you arrive. In some cases, farms are now accepting no touch payment options like Venmo, Zelle or Paypal. U-pick strawberry farms are spacing customers out so there is adequate social distancing in the field.
Farmers markets are spacing vendors further apart, encouraging produce to be pre-packaged, asking customers not to handle produce they aren't purchasing and making hand sanitizer readily available to customers and vendors. If you would rather do your grocery shopping at the farm or farmers market rather than the grocery store or if you want to find transplants and start growing your own vegetables, those options are available to you. Make sure you call ahead as some of these businesses have chosen to close for their own reasons or may have limited hours or availability.
Remember that all recommended practices to avoid COVID-19 still apply.
Do not shop if you are sick, maybe be sick or have been exposed to someone who has COVID-19.
Stand at least 6 feet apart, avoid high touch surfaces, wash or sanitize your hands regularly and don't touch your face.
Local Grower Resources (Available Now!)
For resources in Onslow and surrounding counties,
For resources in the entire state of North Carolina,
NC Dairy Extension
has provided us with a list of businesses with Local Dairy Products Available.
Would you like to add your business to the list?
We're collecting as many contacts as possible from businesses, produce stands, farms, etc that have fresh produce, meat, dairy, or grains in Onslow and surrounding counties.
If this is something you would like to contribute to submit your information now.
The Onslow County Farmers' Market has opened it's 2020 Season, Saturday April 18th at 830.
We will temporarily be limiting vendors to produce and food at this time.
Saturday, April 18 - Nov 14
830am - 130pm
4024 Richlands Hwy
Tues, April 21- July 28
930am - 130pm
512 New Bridge St., Downtown Jacksonville
Marie S Bowman
4024 Richlands Hwy., Jacksonville NC 28540
Our North Carolina Cooperative Extension - Onslow County Center has started a hashtag
to show our support of our Local Farmers, A
Community & Rural Development
Show your support by using
in your related Facebook and Instagram photos and posts!
If you have questions about lawn, landscape or garden problems, contact your local Cooperative Extension office. In Onslow County call 910-455-5873, Mon - Fri. 8 am - 5 pm, or visit us online anytime at
. While you are there, you can post your questions to be answered by email using the "Ask an Expert' widget (in the upper left hand corner).
North Carolina State University and North Carolina A&T State University commit themselves to positive action to secure equal opportunity regardless of race, color, creed, national origin, religion, sex, age, veteran status or disability. In addition, the two Universities welcome all persons without regard to sexual orientation. North Carolina State University, North Carolina A&T State University, U.S. Department of Agriculture, and local governments cooperating.