Give your tomato plants a second chance

2012-07-29T00:00:00Z Give your tomato plants a second chanceElena Acoba Special To The Arizona Daily Star Arizona Daily Star

Even if your tomato plant looks droopy, leggy and flowerless, you might want to hang on to it for a little while longer for a fall crop.

On the other hand, if it's diseased and full of pests, yank it out.

That's the thumbnail sketch of what to do to eke out every last tomato you can from your plant.

There's a third option that tomato growers face every year: Rip out healthy crops to make way for planting of winter vegetables.

Nearly 20 fall and winter vegetables can be planted in August, according to "The Tucson Garden Handbook" by Pima County Cooperative Extension master gardeners.

"In a perfect world, I would leave tomatoes in the ground until it would freeze," says Mary Sisson Eibs, who's an educator and in charge of the gardening program at The Haven, a substance-abuse treatment center.

"In my small garden, I have to remove my tomato plants before that," Sisson Eibs says about the plot at her central Tucson home.

The dilemma occurs because tomato plants can yield two harvests a year in Southern Arizona. The first fruit appears around May. Things change when 100-degree weather sets in.

"The plants get a little stressed and they have a hard time forming flowers or they are less likely to set fruit because of the heat," says Iylea Olson, a landscape designer and home gardener.

Once the temperatures fall in autumn, healthy tomato plants will bounce back and provide more fruit possibly into December.

The two gardeners say you should pull out tomato plants early if:

• they have disease such as powdery mildew or pests like aphids.

• you can't reduce the heat stress with shade, adequate water and fertilizer.

• plants get sun scorched and start to shrivel and get crispy.

• you're growing a determinate variety such as Roma. These eventually won't grow any more flowers. Indeterminates -"Early Girl" is one - will keep growing flowers in the right conditions.

• you need space for winter crops.

• you don't have time or energy to tend both tomatoes and winter crops come fall.

If you decide to keep the plants, cut them back by about a third to a half once the monsoon rains go away. "They will rejuvenate," Sisson Eibs says.

You can also plant some winter veggies around the tomatoes. Olson suggests low-lying ones such as basil, radishes and winter squash.

What to do in August

Pima County Cooperative Extension, home of the master gardener program, has a short list of additional things to do around the yard in August.

• Fertilize citrus and nutrient-depleted flowers, vegetables and lawns.

• Dethatch lawns of dead grass plants.

Contact local freelance writer Elena Acoba at acoba@dakotacom.net

Copyright 2014 Arizona Daily Star. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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