Tomatoes in Tucson

azruss(8b Tucson)November 21, 2008

Next spring will be my second season of backyard tomato gardening in Marana. Last season was a great learning season, but without much success fruit-wise. Would love to get tips and ideas from others in this area who have had success with backyard tomatoes. Last year I used large containers. This year I will use framed raised beds and maybe a container or two.

I have already started some of my seeds indoors, with the plan of planting out in late January (with Wall O Waters season extenders). Last year I planted out on March 1, and it was just too late to harvest much of anything before the 100+ degree days in June. Additionally, I will be using early season and early mid season varieties only. (Well, except for Aunt Ruby's German Green, which I have to try again!)

Open to suggestions.


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i also had a nice tomatoe garden in mesa and would like to share my lessons. i also planted a little to late but they they seemed ok i had beefsteak, roma and a variety called americas favorite vf55. that one did the best by far. my problem though was i got blossom end rot. i researched it and its from calcium deficiency and lack of water or poor water schedule. also towards the end there was some bug, maybe a beetle that ate holes the size of a pencils right through the fruit. watch out for him! you can remedy the calcium problem with crushed egg shells and water with epsom salts. hope this helps you avoid these problems.

    Bookmark   November 24, 2008 at 2:12PM
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I've gardened on the east side of Tucson for 2 summers. The best advice I can give you on tomatoes is to stick with the smaller varieties -- cherry tomatoes, Sweet-100s, and pear tomatoes. I get only 1 or 2 tomatoes -- if any -- off the plants that should produce large fruit. But, I get handfuls off the cherry and pear varieties. Also, I plant directly in the ground and use shade cloth during most of the summer. I think shade from the intense sun and proper irrigation are the key factors on getting tomatoes to produce.

    Bookmark   December 3, 2008 at 3:12PM
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Suzi AKA DesertDance Zone 9b

Well, we have issues with tomatoes here also. I should rephrase "I" have issues. In the California forum, I posted something about tomatoes don't grow well in our desert, and I got "spam" from some lady in Nevada who wants me to buy her book on tomatoes to find out what varieties grow in heat! Motown Gardener and Birdlady have given me hope and varieties for free! Thank you so very much!!

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 5:12PM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

The So CA zone 10 desert climate is similar to Las Vegas, so you might find Leslie Doyle's book interesting. I bought a copy of "Growing the Tomato in Las Vegas in Terrible Dirt and Desert Heat" and I enjoyed reading every word. In fact, I've read it twice. Las Vegas is even hotter than Tucson in the summer, so I'm definitely going to try out some of this woman's procedures. She seems to know what she's talking about. Recommended reading for us desert dwellers who like growing tomatoes.

    Bookmark   December 9, 2008 at 7:30PM
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Thanks for the name of that book azruss. I have been looking for a book that will give me tips on growing my own tomatoes in Tucson. Nothing I have tried in three years has worked. Coming from the Midwest where gardening is so easy I am desperate to learn how to grow my own organic vegetables and fruit. Found some wonderful sources already here. Thanks to everyone who has posted to help others.

    Bookmark   January 18, 2009 at 12:10PM
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I'm in Continental Ranch. In '08 I grew Red Grape, Black Cherry, Salisaw Cafe red cherry, Sungold cherry, Beam's Yellow Pear, Sweet Pea Red Currant, Zarnitza, Carmello,Orange Roma,Taxi, Northern Lights, Black Prince and Sunset's Red Horizon. The large N. Lights and Red Horizon were softball sized and I got less than half a dozen on each of those, plus the birds pecked holes in half of them! The smaller varieites were much more successful. The little determinate I did, Taxi, was super productive, plum sized yellow fruit. From what I've gathered determinates and shorter season 70 day or so type of varieties tend to do better here. This year I think I'm going to try the monsoon trim to get a second harvest on a few of the indeterminate plants. Also will be starting seed for a fall crop too. What varieties are you guys doing this year?

I got started late this year so we'll see how it goes. I started seed early Jan. and didn't transplant until the first week of March. About 2 weeks later than what I normally try for. I'm originally from Michigan and wowie is it different growing here! I'm very interested in your Tucson Trials too, keep posting! I find shade, deep watering with a soaker hose, and mulch to be very helpful here.

By shade I mean filtered or late afternoon shade. My one bed is shaded by my neighbors tree from 2 on. My other beds I grow Armenian cukes and the vining Italian Trombone squash near the maters. This way when the furnace comes these plants grow up the CRW cages and give some shade. It's somewhat intensive space wise so I heavily amend the soil, not quite square foot gardening style, but close!

I also have basil and marigolds planted around the tomato bases as additional living mulches. In the past I've used cocoa beans as mulch, love the chocolate smell, also somewhat acidic...and with our alkaline soil it's just a nice addition. Can't find it this year so am going to have to use something else and get it down in the next week or so. Please post how your 2009 Tucson Maters grow!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 1:00PM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

I planted out seedlings of Aunt Ruby's German Green, Pruden's Purple and Costoluto Genovese on January 1 and surrounded them with Walls O Waters. A couple of weeks later a Momotaro, Super Sioux and Hawaiian Tropic went in, also with WOW. The last three to go into the raised beds were Mule Team, Neves Azorean Red and Sungold, on February 14. No tomatoes yet, but lots of flowers and the plants look very healthy. Momotaro looks especially strong. The ones set out on January 1 are about 4' tall. In one of Raybo's EarthTainers I have a Stupice and a Goose Creek, both flourishing. I have a hunch based on many things I've studied that Stupice is going to be an excellent variety for Tucson. It already has one cluster of 5 green tomatoes. I have Green Grape, Black Cherry, Isis Candy, Gardener's Delight, Mrs. Maxwell's Big Italian and a couple of Heartlands ready to set out, that is if Earthbox ever sends my order. I will also experiment with a couple of heat set determinates, Heat Wave, Sun Master, Homestead and Solar Set. A friend is trialing Thessaloniki and Eva Purple Ball.

Our winter Tucson weather this year has been extremely warm, and tomato friendly. Granted there were a few nights dipping into the 30's that seemed to cause no harm. I'm hopeful.

I have read about a few varieties that just push through the summer heat in the Coachella Valley and Las Vegas--namely Hawaiian Tropic, Mexico and Stupice. I found out about Mexico too late for a spring/summer crop, but will start some seed as soon as they arrive. I'll keep you posted about the others.

I too am a firm believer in mulch, mulch, mulch, and I will shade as many plants as I can July through mid-September with a product called Aluminet, 40%. Will also report on that.

I'd love to read reports on other Tucson area tomato growers' successes and failures.

Russ in Marana, AZ

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 4:51PM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

By the way, I have read in the Growing Tomatoes forum that gardeners who grow basil in their tomato beds get ZERO horn worms. Now that's motivation to try it!

    Bookmark   March 17, 2009 at 7:55PM
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in nw phoenix area buckeye az i have tomatos setting earygirl , souix, costoluto genovese. ive found misting flowers or spraying plants with a blast from hose gives the pollen a chance to stick. i do this 2 time a day in the heat of day if possible. i cover with sheets below 48 degrees shade when temps get hot in late april. seems to be working i started my plant in ground with flowers ready so. they were tall i planted deep pinching off lower leaves. ill start my fall crop from seed so thell be ready for ground late aug useing only heat loving types under shade at first. i think or hope im starting to get it right. i think i can grow short and early mid season. but feel it will vary yr to yr depending on weather. im now confident i can have at least a good crop of med size short season types. ernie good luck folks

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 2:42AM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

Ernest, what heat-loving types are you starting from seed for a fall crop? I'm going to trial some of the heat-set varieties throughout summer into fall, such as Heat Wave, Sun Master, Solar Set, Homestead and Bella Rosa--all determinates. I'm curious not only about performance, but their taste as well. Solar Set is supposed to be pretty good. Although these were bred for the hot, humid heat in the South, our Tucson July and August are fairly humid too, due to monsoon.

Right now I have fruit setting on Costoluto Genovese (but the plant is looking scraggily and not all that healthy), Super Sioux, Momotaro and Sun Gold (and others are flowering and looking good, e.g. Goose Creek, Hawaiian Tropic and Mule Team), but the Queen of the garden is Stupice. It is deep green, getting big, very healthy and FULL of small, unripe tomatoes. It is supposed to handle our desert summer and fall very well. Can't wait to find out.

I'm going to try shading this summer too, with a product called Aluminet. Great reviews on the product from a home grower in Key West.

I wanted to stick with heirlooms, but ultimately I had to ask myself what I was after: taste, old fashioned mid-summer tomato flavor. Frankly, I don't care what varieties it comes from. Whatever works here.

Keep posting folks. Your successes are very encouraging and your failures are educational. Thanks.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 1:53PM
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I have grown a lot of tomatoes in Glendale, AZ. The key is to get them out as early as possible - hopefully late Feb. Ten years ago or so, I bit the bullet and bought a 50' roll of concrete reinforcing grid wire from Home Depot. It is about 5' wide and when cut up and rolled into a 2-3' diameter it makes a great support for each tomato. I think it cost about $55 but it has lasted all this time and I reuse the supports year after year.
I have to rig up 7' supports over the tomatoes for the shade cloth and later bird netting. I also use automated drip sprinklers. I use lots of home made compost and plant the transplants deep leaving just the top 2 or 3 branches above ground.

My wife's friend says she grows the best tomatoes in the fall and has never had much luck in the spring. I have never had much luck in the fall. I think because I plant too late. The tomatoes I tried to nurse through the summer start to recover in September, but never produce tomatoes before it gets too cold for them to ripen.

One "tip" I got from the lady with the book in Las Vegas was the reflective sheets under the tomatoes to reflect the sun up to the leaves. I used aluminum foil. I "thought" it helped the tomatoes grow faster, but gave it up as too much trouble to keep clean and concluded the faster growth was probably my imagination.

Some of our favorites are Celebrity, Sweet 100 cherry tomatoes and one, I think it is called Big Beef, that grows a few giant tomatoes.

Hope this helps someone. I would love to read other methods and tips for growing tomatoes in the hot deserts.

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 8:41PM
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well azruss im going to do sioux again, paul robson a black i hope i spelled right. and heatwave and or homestead i feel starting them mature if u will, helps cut time. i would like to have 2 sets of flowers at planting time. i start seeds in single 3in pots then repot when tall, to 8 inch or taller cups or pots puting roots right to bottom then fill with mix. this held 2 ft plus plants this spring . i got the clear plastic cups at 99 cent store put bottom holes, worked fine. i feel we can grow some longer season types but may have to be happy with a few of some of our longer season favorites. i really loved kellogs breakfast my last year in rhode island, likewise pruden purple. i will try theses again, very tastey .glad to here your stupice is good its one ill try next spring . ive used some high phosphrous water soluble, with my other water soluable food i have the greenet plant ive ever grown i dont boost it up much but it seems to help with flowers as well . good luck u seem to have a great passion and im very interested in your progress. ernie

    Bookmark   March 29, 2009 at 11:39PM
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I have tried all kinds of tomatoes in Tucson (and for many seasons I grew as many heirloom and open-pollinated heat-tolerant disease-resistant varieties I can find). I have never found a single tomato variety that could compare with the hybrid Celebrity. The only varieties that have come close were determinate or semi-determinate such as Neptune and Siletz.

Celebrity grows incredibly well, has dense foliage and reliably produces sandwich-sized tomatoes. There are some other factors that should be considered, such as watering-frequency, deep rich soil and a little west-side shade, but the variety makes a huge different.

Below are a few other things I found helpful to growing tomatoes in the desert.

Here is a link that might be useful: Growing Tomatoes in Tucson

    Bookmark   January 22, 2014 at 4:28PM
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azruss(8b Tucson)

Interesting that this thread may be active again. Last year I decided not to sweat the whole thing so much, and bought three hybrids from Home Depot: Jet Star, Lemon Boy and Tami-G (grape). The Jet Star didn't do so well, but believe it or not, the Lemon Boy and Tami-G are still producing. (We have had an unusually warm winter thus far.) Lemon Boy was extremely productive and seemed to have some heat set qualities. And, thoroughly ripened, the tomatoes were very full flavored--unlike many contrary reports on their taste. I will plant it again this season, and maybe I'll try Celebrity to see how it works. I've previously found Celebrity tomatoes purchased at CA farmers' markets to be totally lacking in flavor, but they do make excellent fried green tomatoes if the ripened flavor falls short. Won't grow Tami-G again because good grape tomatoes can be found at stores year round. Probably will replace it with a store-bought Big Beef or Better Boy plant. I gave up on the hassle of starting my own seeds.

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 1:05PM
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