I like to get some tomatoes in even earlier. I generally plant my hybrids in January and my heirloom varieties in February. But two issues that I come up against with planting this early are 1) I don't like to start my own tomatoes from seed and hybrids don't grow reliably from saved seed, and 2) tomatoes need protection from the cold.
Fortunately, these challenges can be overcome. Here's how!
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IF I were planting these tomatoes in July, which I occasionally do for a fall harvest, I would dig a deep hole rather than a shallow trench. Why? The surface of the soil gets hot in the summertime, and tomatoes are finicky about temperature. A deep hole will help to keep the roots cooler, closer to the perfect temperature for tomato growth.
I mentioned that I do not like to start tomatoes from seed. There are growers in town who are excellent at it, and I am not too proud to admit that I am not not attentive enough to be particularly successful at it. So I buy heirloom tomato starts from the experts, and start my own hybrids vegetatively.
Most seed saving tutorials will tell you that collecting and starting seeds from hybrid vegetable varieties gives mixed results, at best. Many of the plants grown from seeds saved from hybrids will not resemble the parent plant much at all.
So, if I have a hybrid that I really want to grow in successive seasons without having to buy new specimens, an easy option for tomatoes is to clone them.
The process works like this: 1) Select a young shoot that is low to the ground and pin it to the soil with a landscape staple or a wire bent into a U shape. The photos shows how I did this with a young transplant, but I usually wait until later in the season when the plant is a bit larger.
3) In a few weeks, uncover the stem and look to see it it has put down roots. If it has, you can sever the shoot from the original plant by clipping it between the staple and the main stem of the mother plant.
4) Carefully dig up the new root ball, being careful not to damage the roots too much. You may want to dig out a section of soil around the roots for transplant. If the timing is not right to plant and new tomato start, transplant the start in a small pot and bring it inside until the timing is right to place it in the garden. I often do his near the end of the tomato season, and grow them indoors until the next planting time.
And that's it! No more dependence on buying hybrids from the nursery; you can now start your own transplants for the varieties that you love.
When I plant tomatoes early, I want to certain that they are protected from any hint of frost, which can be deadly. Since our climate is relatively mild, I don't have to protect against hard frosts, thankfully. I just need to raise the temperature a few degrees. To accomplish this, I turn a tomato cage upside down and wrap it in clear plastic. Paper clips hold the plastic in place.
There are few things that I love more than a vine ripened tomato, freshly harvested. The flavor is head and shoulders above the quality of flavorless tomatoes purchased from a grocer, and one tip that I learned is never to refrigerate them because they lose their flavor rapidly in the cold.
Tomatoes can be can be challenging to grow in Phoenix, but the reward is worth the effort!