There are few garden joys greater than the taste of ripe tomatoes, fresh from the garden and at the peak of their flavor. Understanding tomato plant tags is the first step in that growing process to insure a great tomato harvest.
Understanding a plant tag can seem daunting at first. How do you decipher the gibberish on that plant tag? Is that tomato a good choice for your garden?
Some tomato tags read like botanical encyclopedias and some fail to provide much information. Knowing how to read a tomato tag is essential to making the best choices while you’re at the nursery.
1. Common name of tomatoes
All tomatoes have a common name and a Latin name (referred to as a Botanical name). Common names of several popular tomatoes are: Best Boy, Brandywine, Green Zebra, La Roma and San Marzano.
2. Botanical name of tomatoes
Botanical names are generally described by two Latin words written in italic on the tag. The botanical name indicates the species of the tomato plant. A third word following the botanical name is the cultivar of the tomato, as in the name Roma. A cultivar is simply a variation of the species. Roma, San Marzano and Brandywine are all paste tomatoes. But they look, taste and grow differently.
3. Other common names
Tomato tags may simply categorize a plant as a plum tomato, paste tomato, or pizza tomato. This is ok if the tag also provides necessary information such as the plant type, days to maturity and plant care. These are critical for tomato success.
4. Tomato plant types
Understanding the plant’s genetic makeup is also important. If you plan to save seeds for the next year’s crop you will need tomatoes that are heirlooms or open pollinated. Heirloom plants are stable in the garden and provide seeds to grow subsequent crops from year to year.
Hybrid plants have strong qualities but the seeds can’t be replicated. To grow them the following year, you’ll go back to the nursery for more plants next spring.
Open pollenated plants, such as volunteer tomatoes, are stable in garden from year to year.
5. Determinate vs. indeterminate tomatoes
Determinate tomatoes plants will all ripen at once. This is what is needed for canning tomatoes, making sauces or dehydrating tomatoes for the winter.
Indeterminate tomatoes provide a steady stream of ripe fruit throughout the growing season. Most common tomato varieties are indeterminate.
6. Sun and shade tomatoes
Tomatoes are happiest in full sun, or at least six hours of sun. Although, there are varieties are fine with partial shade. Important tip: read that tomato plant tag.
7. Tomato size
How large will the tomato be when it’s ripe? Smaller varieties like cherry tomatoes yield greater quantities of small fruit. Larger varieties like Beefsteaks yield fewer but larger fruit.
8. Days to harvest
This is an important growing factor. Days to harvest indicates the number of days needed for the first ripe tomato. Early season tomatoes need 50-65 days, mid season tomatoes 66-75 days and late season 100-125 days. If late season varieties were all you purchased at the nursery, it will be a very long hot summer without tomatoes. Consider choosing a mix of early, mid season and late season varieties for fresh tomatoes throughout the growing season. Northern climates may require early season varieties to compensate for the shorter growing season.
9. Tomato hardiness
Tomatoes are considered annuals; they die off in the winter in all but the most mild climate zones. Most tomato varieties are hardy in climate zones 5-12.