How To Grow Cherry Tomatoes In Desert Climates
Cherry Tomatoes Vs. Southern Nevada Summers
Desert climates are not ideal conditions for growing anything but sunburns and sweat pools, but I have found that cherry tomatoes thrive during our growing season. I know that the minute the temperatures here in the deserts of Southern Nevada reach over 100, my tomato plants are done for. This is a fact I have learned to live with in the years I have kept a garden.
Below you will find my tips on growing these delightful tomato treasures and tips on fighting back the impending doom of the plant.
Our spring is late February to early June. We must take great care here to protect tender plants from serious sun exposure and hot, dry air. Plants must be watered frequently or they will suffer terribly. As soon as the weather turns hateful and impacts these plants, it is time to trim them back or uproot them completely and plan for fall plantings.
Our Fall temperatures are late August on into the beginning for November for most years.
Gardening in containers suits my purposes quite well as I live in a tiny apartment in the city. It is here on my patio that I grow my cherry tomatoes. These plants bush out and produce amazing clumps of tiny tomatoes while it is still cool. They will keep flowering and producing until the summer scares them away. For this small garden, cherry tomatoes are the ideal sized "maters". Without a large family to provide for -- a few tomato nuggets a week are perfect .
With container grown veggies like these cherry tomatoes I can restrict sun exposure when the time comes and try to keep them growing a little longer. I just shift them to a shadier spot. They will fade away by the middle of July so I start or buy new plants about this time. I keep them shaded until the temperatures and sun exposure are a little more comfortable.
Keeping water flowing to the roots and soil crumbly will allow a plant like a cherry tomato to do well in this region.
Photos and images are the property of M Burgess. Please, do not copy, thank you!
Diagram For Planting Containers To Retain Moisture - Layering Soil In Pots With Vermiculite And Peat Moss
Planting cherry tomatoes in containers for desert climates need a bit of extra help to retain moisture for tender roots. I have to have a really great soil mixture to maintain a healthy, producing plant.
By lining a pot correctly with layers of gravel, sand, vermiculite, and extra peat moss I can then fill my container up with rich gardening soil - a mixture of compost, peat moss, sharp sand, and rich loam. I leave a well in the pot for planting the cherry tomato as you will see in the next image. Adding these additional materials helps water drain and flow creating a healthy environment for delicate root systems. Without it the soil will pack down and restrict growth.
Vermiculite and peat moss will be added to my plantings this year when I change over the soil for the next season. Vermiculite retains water so that thirsty roots can access it when the soils get a little dry in between watering. The peat moss adds extra rich nutrients and also retains moisture. They also help aerate the soil preventing soil from hardening. Every now and then you will need to poke down into the dirt and create air holes. Do this carefully not to disturb roots. Stir up the top level of soil and add more if needed.
This layering technique may also be used in a ground planted garden. You will have to dig troughs to layer these materials in a similar fashion. I would recommend digging down at least 14" into your garden bed to place these materials. Once this layering is placed you may transplant your seedlings or starter plants. Mulch after planting for additional moisture retention.
When you are ready to add the gardening soil I would suggest you mix it with water ahead of time in a separate container. Then add it to your pot. It should have the same consistency as a thick cake batter.
For container garden plantings leave at least 4" at the top of the pot for water to pool and let the soil soak it in. Soil drying out and caking are a common problem with growing in pots.
Prepping Containers For Transplanting
Ideal Containers For Gardeing
An ideal pot or container for gardening in desert climates are plastic. I would not recommend them in areas that are very humid as they tend to retain moisture and cause molds and mildew. Clay or ceramic would be a better choice. The larger plastic pots are perfect for my cherry tomato plants however they may be grown in window boxes or 5 gallon buckets, too. I would not use metal containers here either because it will literally cook the plant during the hotter months. You can fry eggs here during summer on sidewalks, imagine what that heat would do to a root system!
If you choose pots that have a catch basin under them you can prevent water run off. The pots listed below are all self watering, but you will still need to check soil moisture level to maintain plant health.
Transplanting Your Tomato Plant
From Starter Plantings
Carefully remove starter plant or seedling from its container. You will need to gently coax the roots out of most starter pots.
This is crucial to a plant's healthy start.
If you damage the roots in the beginning they may react badly and not do well. Lifting the plant out from its base, work the starter pot away from roots that may have grown through the drainage holes. For peat pots, gingerly work the bottom off of the pot being careful not to damage the roots and break the sides off of these bio-degradable containers. The pieces may be left in the container to decompose.
From here work your fingers into the root ball and tenderly spread them out a little. Shake some of the excess soil out and set it in the pit you dug for the transplant.
Plant Set In Container
My Best Tip For Planting Tomatoes?
By setting a tomato plant into the soil above the third tier of leaves, the roots will branch out from this section and build a stronger base for the plant.
Tomato plants need a firm stalk to support the coming fruits. Trim the leaves off if you like or leave them for compost. This is a common technique for growing tomatoes.
When the tomatoes start to set they will get top heavy and fall over if this practice is not applied.
Cover And Level The Plant With Soil
The Importance Of Tomato Cages - Support Growth And Heavy Branches
It is imperative you support tomatoes early with tomato cages, dowels, or stakes. Placing cages and support structures while the plant is still young gives it an opportunity to grow around the structure and allows you to guide its progress. When the tomatoes start growing the branches will weigh down the plant and cause it to lean or even break off weak branches. The vines will lean on the wired structure of the cage.
This spindly tomato plant is still alive and in the shade of my garden but has not produced any tomatoes. It came free with my pepper plants. I think it wants to be a tree! I will move it to a sunnier location when the weather cools down!
The plant in the background is my cherry tomato for 2013 spring planting and it has produced many lovely cherry sized tomatoes that were sweet and delicious. The guinea pigs and I thoroughly enjoyed our harvest about three times a week while it produced! It is the main plant featured in this article's images.
Tomato Cages - Support Structures For Tomato Plants
Plain or fancy tomato cages are irrelevant to your plant so chose the options that would work best in your planting area. Gardens for producing edible veggies can be ornate and attractive if you can work a few decorated supports into the scheme!
Water And Let Drain
Hydrate Your Plant
When you have set the soil around your plant water it generously and let it drain before you water again.
I would check the soil the next morning and if it is dry under the top 4" to 6" of dirt, it would be time to water again. They will take off from here and blossom within a few days to a week. They will wilt, too, if they are needing to be watered. Wilting is common in full sun when it gets hotter here in the desert. They may be conserving water in their roots during the day. I would give them a splash in late afternoon if the soil is dried out after the sun passes over them.
You should be seeing tomatoes around the 6 week mark.
Watering The Garden - Sprinkler Cans
I prefer to use a sprinkler fitted watering can when watering the garden and am hydrating plants. During the early mornings or late evenings, a sprinkler can may be used to toss a few drops of water onto the leaves to help the plant cool off. After watering I mist them for added moisture. NOTE: Do not do this if plant will be in direct sunlight. It will burn your leaves. They deliver a gentle stream to each plant and it is easy to soak the soil this way. I have a one gallon watering can but I am thinking about buying a bigger one to hold more water. The gallon sized can is light enough to carry from my sink to my patio without spills and it easily waters one large container or several small ones.
For additional ideas for watering you might consider setting up a drip irrigation system.
A watering can is ideal for delivering fertilizer when needed. The fertilizer can be mixed in the amounts you need and fed directly to the plant. I fertilize after I water so it doesn't wash out of the soil quickly.
The Young Cherry Tomatoes 2013
Ripening Cherry Tomatoes
My Tomato Monster Plant 2013
Time To Harvest!
It is possible to grow cherry tomatoes in desert climates as you see in the article above. The only way to win the fight against this brutal weather changes is to know ahead of time when the best times for planting are.
Leaving a few tomatoes on the vines to produce seeds will give you your own heirloom seeds. If you have a plant that has produced a healthy item resist the temptation to pick all of the produce. I left a few toms behind this year and I am letting them dry out on the plant until they shrivel. They will be removed in time and the seeds will be collected. These seeds can be used to start new plants in time.
The plant may be cut and dug out of the container or ground when it starts to fade because it will not produce again. If you have green leaves at the bottom of the main stalk, leave it in the ground. It may surprise you and start growing again, but it is doubtful. Tomatoes are annuals and generally produce for one season only.
I wish you the best of luck on your cherry - cheery tomatoes and thank you for visiting today!