Use label information to select tomatoes

Published 4:54 pm Friday, May 26, 2023

By Eddie Smith
MSU Extension Service

Tomatoes are in almost everyone’s garden and would easily be voted the No. 1 vegetable. However, as much as we love to grow tomatoes, we must admit that it’s not always easy to do it successfully.

Tomatoes need full sun and deep, well-drained soil. They require phosphorous, nitrogen, potash and minor elements. And because of our naturally acidic soil, you may need to add lime.

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There are hundreds of tomato cultivars available, categorized by plant growth habits and fruit types. When looking at varieties, Mississippi gardeners may choose how long before they want their fruit to ripen.

Early tomatoes like Early Girl, Bush Early Girl, Juliet, Celebrity and Super Sweet 100 ripen in 50 to 65 days from transplanting. Midseason tomatoes like Better Boy, Big Boy, Big Beef, Cherokee Purple and Brandywine ripen from 66 to 80 days from transplanting, and late-season tomatoes like Beefsteak and German Pink require more than 80 days to ripen.

A more important decision may be choosing disease-resistant varieties. When you look at tomato selections, you may notice the letters V, F, N or TMV on the labels. These letters mean the plant is genetically tolerant of verticillium wilt, V; fusarium wilt, F; nematodes, N; and
tobacco mosaic virus, TMV. Selecting a plant with the most disease resistance increases your chance for success.

Other words you’ll find on the tomato label are “determinate” and “indeterminate,” and you need to know what these mean so you can select the growth habit best suited to your use. Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow and produce for an extended season. Fruit production may continue until the first frost.

Most heirloom tomato cultivars have an indeterminate growth habit. The continuous growth produces many main stems, all capable of flowering and producing fruit. Because of this abundant, lush growth, it is best to prune and stake these tomatoes.

Determinate tomato plants grow to a certain size, set fruit and then decline in a short period of time. Most early-ripening tomato cultivars are determinate and will not produce tomatoes throughout the summer. Determinate tomatoes are relatively compact and produce a full, bushy plant. Their main harvest is concentrated into a few weeks. This may be ideal for those who want to can or preserve the fresh tomato harvest or for those like myself who travel a lot during the late summer.

Semi-determinate is a third type of tomato plant that makes a bushy plant and sets fruit and ripens over a longer period of time than a normal determinate. An example is Celebrity tomato, one of my favorites, and an All-America Selection award.

Tomatoes are ideal for growing in containers, so there is no need to fret if you don’t have a garden plot. Choose a container that is at least a foot deep with drainage holes at the bottom.

When container gardening, use a water-soluble fertilizer about every two weeks. You will more than likely be watering multiple times a week during the summer.

Dr. Eddie Smith is a gardening specialist and Pearl River County coordinator with the Mississippi State University Extension Service. He is also host of the popular Southern Gardening television programs. Locate Southern Gardening products online at