Tomato plants from big box stores

robert2014 zone 5b(5B Central IL)February 2, 2014

Hello everyone,
first time poster here.

Last year I purchased some tomato plants without giving much thought. it was my first year of gardening and I was pretty happy with the overall results. And now I am hooked. So this year I am planning ahead of time. Unlike many others, I do not have the space or the equipment to start plants from seed. So my only option is to buy from the stores. There is a nursery here, but their plants last year were 4 times more costly than the big stores. I dont really remember all the varieties i picked, but I think one of them was pink girl and it produced quite a lot of tomato.

So with this limitation in mind, can you please suggest some varieties that I can get from the big box stores? My priorities are, the variety needs to be productive and disease resistant. If the taste is great, thats an added bonus.

Thanks a lot,

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Will try to help Robert but the problem is that variety sales are regional. Bonnie Plants supplies the transplants for most all the big box stores and you can view a list of all their varieties on their website. But they don't ship all there varieties all over the country. So what is commonly available down here may not be found in your neck of the woods.

If you are lucky then your big box store may also contract with some local grower nurseries - Walmart does that here - so your selections would be much better. You'll have to ask your store to know.

A few of the most common hybrid varieties are usually available all over - Early Girl, Better Boy, Big Boy, Celebrity, Bonnie's Original, etc. But unfortunately they are just that - common hybrids and not especially good varieties. Makes little difference which you pick as one is as good as any other.

If high production and disease tolerance (it isn't actual resistance) is your primary concern then stick with hybrids. How much tolerance and to what disease depends on the variety. None have tolerance for everything.

Then you have to decide if you want determinate varieties or indeterminate plants and the color and size of the fruit you prefer.

So all that said, from the Bonnie's list of hybrids I'd look for:

Better Boy
Big Beef
Mortgage Lifter
Parks Whopper
Pink Girl
One of the BHN varieties
Jet Star

to name a few. Not saying they are the best tomato just that you should be able to find them and they all have good production and fairly good disease tolerance.

Hope this helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: Bonnie Plants - Tomatoes

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 4:13PM
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bcfromfl(z8a NW FL)

Lowe's, Home Depot, and WalMart always carry a good selection. Big Beef is generally considered the best-tasting, most disease-resistant variety, and you should be able to find them at one of the above stores. Depending upon your summer weather you may have blight to contend with, but there are some things you can do to perhaps minimize the impact on your plants.

What I would recommend is to buy your plants as soon as they are available, and you can get the cheaper, smaller plants. That way, they won't sell out their inventory before you're ready to plant. When you get your plants home, pot them up into a larger, deeper pot, using a good-quality, sterile mix. (If you don't have pots, but drink soda or milk, you can fashion pretty good pots out of the empty containers.) If you are able, and don't mind the extra work, carry them outside and inside so that they can get sun during the day, and protection from cold temperatures at night.

When you're ready to plant, if you allow the pots to dry out a little, you should be able to slide the whole kit and caboodle out in one piece without disturbing the roots too much. Plant deep.

Good luck!


    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 4:21PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I was surprised last year to see that big box stores carried quite few unusuals, like cherokee purple, black krem, brandywine among others. But You cannot be sure what might get them locally this coming season. But all in all, you'll find couple dozen varietie in different stores to choose from. If there are smaller specialty nurseries in your area you might find more varieties. Years ago PIKE nursery was way ahead of Lowes and HD in offering varieties.

If I was sure that the big box store will carry What I want, probably would not go throu the seed starting process. I know that I can find some of those in my list but not all.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 6:06PM
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ABlindHog(8a Tx Hill Country)

I would add that it is probably a waste of money to buy the larger potted tomatoes. They don't gain you any development time, and they cost a lot more than the smaller plants in the six packs.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 6:11PM
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robert2014 zone 5b(5B Central IL)

Thanks a lot everyone for your replies. Much appreciated. Dave, your list made me remember, I picked 3 celebrity tomatoes, but they did really bad for me.

I wrote down all your suggestions, hopefully I will find at least a few of them.

Bruce thanks for the great tips.

ABlindHog, you are absolutely right. Found that out last year the hard way. I bought the packs of 4, but also bought a few bigger ones. Probably paid around 5 dollars each, but the smaller guys did way better.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 8:26PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

I start my own seedlings, but check to see what's being sold here as well, and sometimes buy a few.

In this area, the vast majority of tomatoes at Lowe's, HD, and WM are Bonnie seedlings, and a small percentage are from other sources (including Metrolina Greenhouses, a major nursery grower in Charlotte). I'd say Bonnie has about 25-30 varieties in each location, a mixture of heirlooms and hybrids ... big-name varieties as well as names that make you go Huh?

The tomato seedlings I've seen at non-big box garden centers haven't had any source tags; presumably they were grown by the garden centers. The varieties are the same sort of mix as the Bonnie tomatoes at the big-box stores: heirlooms and hybrids, familiar names and non-.

A seed-seller about an hour north of here delivers tomato seedlings to an organic market in the county seat. (I've never actually gotten there to look at them.)

I'll add another vote for Big Beef and Rutgers.

    Bookmark   February 2, 2014 at 9:31PM
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robert - where are you located? Big box stores have problems with diseased/stressed plants, coming from Southern states that don't have the winter kill of diseases we have up north, also employees don't know how to take care of them. If there is no nursery near you check out farm stands, church or civic group plant sales, even Craigslist. Often people (like myself) will sell or give away their excess seedlings, they have the knowledge to start and harden off at the correct time for your region, and you can get varieties that aren't available in the big box stores. Also advice from someone who's actually grown that variety.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 8:39AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Big box stores have problems with diseased/stressed plants, coming from Southern states that don't have the winter kill of diseases we have up north

That is an awfully broad statement given the millions of problem-free plants bought from big box stores and grown successfully each year.

In 2009 the run of Late Blight in the NE was supposedly traced back to growers that supplied some of the big box stores in that region. To my knowledge the specific location of those growers was never identified. And Late Blight spores can survive on living tissue even in the coldest winter locations.

Add to that the fact that the more common tomato diseases are also caused by air borne spores that exist in most all parts of the country, it would be difficult to lay the blame for them on any one region much less any "southern states" grower.

I agree that one should use local suppliers whenever possible for any number reasons, but as with most things, the buyer needs to accept some responsibility in the selection and care of any plants they purchase from any source.


    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 12:09PM
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If you have a local farmer's market, I would definitely recommend you check it out when it is time to plant. They will have locally grown seedlings and are usually quite reasonable in price.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 4:26PM
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robert2014 zone 5b(5B Central IL)

ajsmama.. I am located in central Illinois.

Ryse, thanks for mentioning farmer's market. I completely forgot about it. We do have one here and I will check it out.

    Bookmark   February 3, 2014 at 9:41PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

In the past I had so much left over that I was begging people to take them away. But ended up composting many.

Ask/check with friends an relative too, who are growing from seed.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 1:17AM
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kathyb912_in (5a/5b, Central IN)(5a/5b)

Robert, another idea is to call up your county's Extension Office and Master Gardener's program and ask if they hold a plant sale in the spring. MG programs sometimes run these as fundraiser and to promote themselves to residents. Ours is held at our county fairgrounds.

As others have said, most home gardeners start more seeds than they have room for (in case of poor germination, etc.) so spread the word among your friends, family, neighbors and coworkers and you may get lucky. Also consider posting to your local Freecycle in the spring to let people know you are looking. I've also given away my extras to local Facebook friends who expressed interest. Believe me, I'd be overjoyed to share my extras with people who were eager for them.

And finally, I did see Cherokee Purple at our local Home Depot (west-central Indiana) last year, so that's one you might find in your town, too.

I will add that the most productive garden I ever had was when I lived in Decatur, IL, so good luck and have fun! :)

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 6:21PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

It would be a good idea to put Illinois on your member page information. People can answer you if they have an idea where you live. We have Atwood's and feed stores here that have tomatoes in six packs. I have even traded three for three out of a six pack with a customer I didn't know before purchasing tomatoes. I only wanted three Celebrity and I forgot what the other was. People are friendly at feed stores and farm stores. Jet Star is a good hybrid but you can probably find some Cherokee Purple because it is so popular. Even if you don't plant many tomatoes it is good to plant some different ones. My black tomatoes didn't do well in a rainy spell I had in early August here. Usually August is hot and dry. Some tomatoes will do better than others in various weather conditions.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 8:16PM
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robert2014 zone 5b(5B Central IL)

seysonn, kathy and helen.. thanks a lot for the great suggestions. I will ask my coworkers and friends and also keep an eye on craiglist.

Kathy, I stay very close to decatur. Would you mind sharing which veggies and varieties did best for you when you were here?


    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 10:16PM
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fcivish(Zone 6 Utah)

I second most of the varieties suggested above, starting with everything on Dave's list. I especially like the flavor and characteristics of Big Boy, Better Boy and Big Beef, and think most home gardeners would do well with them.

I also strongly suggest Sungold, a wonderful small orange cherry tomato that is very prolific, or Sweet 100s if you can't find Sungold. You might also look for a small grape tomato. They generally do pretty well and have pretty good flavor.

    Bookmark   February 5, 2014 at 10:52PM
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kathyb912_in (5a/5b, Central IN)(5a/5b)

Robert, I was new to gardening when we lived in Decatur, so I'm afraid I don't have notes to refer back to for specific varieties.

That said, I do remember that we had amazing luck with asparagus, which grew so well that it spoiled us for the future - we have not had anywhere near the results here in Indiana and my husband and I still talk about we wish we'd thought to dig some of those plants and bring them with us when we moved. It was probably the soil rather than the variety (or those specific plants), but we just can't seem to get it established here.

For tomatoes, they were just hybrids from the big box store ... I'm guessing Early Girl and Better Boy. We got dozens (like 50) from each plant and I remember being completely overwhelmed and having no idea what to do with them all, LOL.

We also grew three different types of corn and got what I now know to be a good harvest, but since I was new to gardening, I was all, "OMG, there are little worms in the corn!!" and my husband kept explaining this was common and nothing to freak out about. ;)

There was more -- beans, lettuce, peppers, etc. -- but again, just varieties that were available at the local stores. I was more focused on my flower garden at the time and the veggies just seemed to happen without a ton of effort. I had no idea how lucky I was, LOL.


    Bookmark   February 8, 2014 at 2:06PM
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I lived in Central Illinois (45 minutes West of Peoria) for years and had good luck then (80's & 90's) finding great tomato plants in the temporary nurseries that often popped up in grocery store lots and the like.

I was willing to give them a try because it was a long trek to Peoria to find a big box store. And, they weren't as pricey as the permanent nurseries.

As it happens they were local and a great source of information and conversation about local conditions. The varietal offerings then weren't nearly as diverse as the market is today, but it was a nice local connection.

And, as Kathy mentioned, the soil there was incredible! It was dark, loamy goodness and never a hint of blight. I've been told it was due to the Illinois River, its tributaries and a millenia of flooding. I really had to do little more than fertilize and water - no ammending necessary.

I now live to the southwest of Chicago and it hasn't been as good. I've been working for 8 years now to improve my garden soil. It's getting better every year but this here swamp clay was a wet mess in the spring and got rock hard in the summer. Compost, compost, compost...

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 2:37PM
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robert2014 zone 5b(5B Central IL)

Thanks kathy and tom for your valuable inputs. Really appreciated. Kathy I can totally relate to that, because last year was my first time and I hardly took any notes. Now I am kicking myself.

Tom I agree the soil is really good here. Last year I added some compost and thats it other than regular watering. I was pretty satisfied with the results given it was my first year of gardening.

If I remember correctly I had like 5-6 varieties of tomatoes. Celebrity and big boy did really bad. The others were good. Too bad, I just remember pink girl out of the varieties that did well.

    Bookmark   February 12, 2014 at 9:13PM
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