Essential Gardening Tips for Growing Gorgeous Louisiana Tomatoes
Tomatoes are right at the top of the list of plants that people living in Louisiana love to grow, though it can take a little extra TLC to get a good crop during the hot southern summer. And what's not to love? From bite-sized cherry and grape varieties to brilliant-colored heirlooms, no summer garden is complete without at least one or two of these gorgeous plants. Here are a few tips about when to plant, which varieties do well in our climate, how to fend off tomato spotted wilt virus (TSWV) and how to prepare soil for planting.
Spring, Summer and Autumn Tomatoes
Thanks to a long growing season, gardeners in Louisiana have three planting windows to take advantage of: early spring, midsummer and late summer. Spring crops are planted just after the last frost of the season. In the southern region that's typically around March 15, while in north Louisiana it's usually closer to April 1. Spring gardening is cooler, making it the optimum time for heirloom tomatoes, hybrid varieties and non-heat-set types.
Summer and autumn tomatoes should be planted from mid-July to late August, and produce fruit until the first hard freeze. Gardeners looking for a fall harvest should look for heat-set varieties. Non-heat-set types sometimes suffer from poor pollen set or pollen sterilization due to high nighttime temperatures. Here are a few of the best varieties to grow in the Louisiana climate:
Especial care must be taken during the warmest weather to provide plenty of nitrogen fertilizer and water in the morning when needed.
Getting Your Soil Prepped
When it comes to growing amazing tomatoes, the soil mix makes all the difference. If you are planting in the ground, loosen the top 6 to 8 inches of soil and add a combination of aged manure, fertilizer or compost. Testing soil regularly can help you to determine fertilizer or soil pH adjustments that are needed. Tomatoes prefer a pH between 6.0 and 7.0. Placing plants in mounded rows of soil is helpful for providing adequate drainage in packed clay soils.
Tomatoes are also an excellent choice for container gardening. As long as the container is gardening-safe and at least 5 gallons large and has plenty of drainage holes, a well-tended tomato plant should thrive. Because they have extensive root systems, these plants do not do well in small pots. Providing plenty of soil ensures that plants will need irrigation less frequently, preventing the leaching of calcium and other vital nutrients from the soil. Container plants that are over-watered are prone to blossom rot.
What to Know about TSWV
Gardening tomatoes in Louisiana means facing the risk of plants contracting tomato spotted wilt virus. Springtime brings with it a host of tiny insects known as thrips. These pests are carriers of the disease, and can pass it on to the host plant within 10 seconds of piercing it. Plants that contract TSWV before fruit setting will not produce. If fruit has already set, the skin of the tomatoes will form yellow or brown halos.
Once a plant has the virus, insecticides cannot stop it. You should make sure to control insect pests early with a recommended insecticide and plant TSW-resistant cultivars. Infected plants should be removed in order to prevent the spread of the disease.
Some Summary Notes
Remember, it's important to choose cultivars based on their disease and pest resistance. You should also make sure to plant non-heat set varieties in the early spring, and heat-set varieties from midsummer to late August. Finally, preempt disease-carrying pests with a targeted insecticide early in the season, and make sure that plants receive regular irrigation throughout the growing season.