Does the fact that Christmas is fast approaching make you think of growing tomatoes?
Of course not. Our thoughts are focused on making sure our homes are decorated for Christmas, looking for the perfect gift for that special someone and hopefully some holiday baking.
But, I am going to tell you why you should also be thinking about growing tomatoes this time of year.
But, did you know that December is the best time to start growing your tomatoes from seed indoors?
For those of you who have grown tomatoes in the arid desert, know that our tomato growing season occurs in spring and fall.
Oh, your tomatoes will live through the summer with a little shade – but they will stop producing new tomatoes once temperatures hit the 90’s because their pollen is not viable.
The other limiting factor is that you can’t set out tomato plants into the garden until the danger of frost is past, which is usually around the beginning of March in the Phoenix metro area.
So, to get the most tomatoes, you want to plant the largest (oldest) tomato plant you can in early March.
Many nursery greenhouses are starting their tomato plants from seed right now where they will grow, protected from the elements until March arrives when you will find them on the shelves of your nursery.
You may be wondering why you should start your own tomato plants instead of buying them at nursery?
Well the problem with purchasing your tomato plants from the nursery is that they have a very limited selection of tomato varieties. And, they may not have the variety you want, or it is sold out.
Growing your own tomatoes from seed is very easy and rewarding.
Here is how I have done it…
I like to use Starbucks coffee sleeves or toilet paper rolls, cut in half as my seedling containers.
Grab some seed starting mix from your local nursery or big box store. Some seed mixes have fertilizer already added. If not, then I recommend adding a slow-release fertilizer to your potting mix.
Wet the soil before adding to your containers.
Fill your recycled containers with the seed mix and add your seeds.
Place your newly planted seeds in a warm area, such as the top of your refrigerator. The heat will help them to germinate.
**Use a spray bottle to keep them moist. Don’t allow the soil to dry out.
Once the seeds begin to sprout, put them in front of a sunny window.
In just a few weeks, you’ll be surprised at how quickly your tomato plants will have grown.
During warm winter days, you can place them outdoors to get a little extra – but be sure to bring them indoors at night until the danger of frost is over.
As your tomato seedlings grow, you can transfer them to larger containers until you are ready to put them out in the garden.
*For more information on seed starting, click here.Noelle Johnson, aka, 'AZ Plant Lady' is a author, horticulturist, and landscape consultant who helps people learn how to create, grow, and maintain beautiful desert gardens that thrive in a hot, dry climate. She does this through her consulting services, her online class Desert Gardening 101, and her monthly membership club, Through the Garden Gate. As she likes to tell desert-dwellers, "Gardening in the desert isn't hard, but it is different."