For The Answer
Saturday, July 20, 2002
TIME TO THINK ABOUT FALL GARDENING
Now that the short-lived drought is broken and we see the sun in between rain showers, it is time to start thinking about the fall garden. Two of the fall performers that we plant earliest are tomatoes and large-flowered marigolds.
If you have tomato plants from the spring that have quit producing heavily and are looking raggedy, pull them out of the garden. Often, tomato plants from the spring are producing more fungus and spider mites than tomatoes this time of the year.
If you have the space, it is best to move the tomato planting around the garden. There is some disease prevention value in crop rotation. It is, however, more important that the plants receive full sun than a new location. Incorporate two inches of compost into the planting area and spread one cup of slow release lawn fertilizer over every 50- sq. ft. of planting area.
Plant a recommended variety of tomato every 3 to 4 feet. Tomato cages keep the plants in control and the fruit off the ground. Fruit rot and even insect damage is reduced if the tomatoes are caged. Most retail nurseries offer aluminum cages (use the largest size) or, if you are really ambitious, you can make cages out of concrete reinforcing wire. A cage 2.5 ft. in diameter would require a piece of reinforcing wire 8 ft. long.
Mulch the newly planted tomatoes to a depth of 2 to 3 inches. Live oak leaves are my favorite tomato mulch because they spread easily and decompose at a moderate rate, slow enough to protect the tomato roots but fast enough that they can be incorporated into the garden soil after the tomato season. Other materials work fine.
Tomatoes are not xeriscape plants; they need a generous supply of water. Using mulch and drip irrigation is the most efficient way to do it. Water when the soil under the mulch dries to one-half inch. Tomatoes are also heavy feeders. A half cup of slow release lawn fertilizer (19-5-9 is good) every four weeks works well.
My favorite fall tomato is Surefire. It tolerates the heat well to produce an early tennis ball-size fruit. I also like to plant a variety like Merced or Celebrity. Sun Master, Heat Wave, Carnival, Bingo, and Whirlaway also do well.
A few years ago Jerry Parsons termed the name marimums for a fall-planted American marigold, usually a variety called Discovery. The idea was that these large-
flowered yellow or orange marigolds planted 18 inches apart would replace garden mums. The marigolds had larger flowers, bloomed longer, and only used the garden space for four months instead of all year like the perennial mums.
Marigolds are beautiful anytime, but planted in the autumn when days cool, they are less likely to be overwhelmed by spider mites.
Look for sturdy transplants at the nursery. A key to the best success is to select transplants that do not have any blooms open yet. You want the plants to reach 10 or 12 inches tall before they bloom. If they start blooming at a small size, they never reach their potential of a mass of color 14 to 16 inches tall. Treat your marimums just like your tomatoes as far as mulch, watering, and fertilization and you will be rewarded with a spectacular mass of color until frost.