Small-space tomato plants

Backyard Q&A

In the Garden

April 25, 2004|By Dennis Bishop | Dennis Bishop,Special to the Sun

I have a very small garden space, but would like to plant tomatoes. Are there any plants that remain small?

Tomatoes are classified in three categories according to how they grow: determinate, semideterminate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomatoes grow to a limited size (2 feet to 3 feet) and quit growing. They tend to produce most of their fruit during a short period of summer. Indeterminates grow throughout the summer to larger sizes and spread their fruit production over a longer period. In between these two types are the semideterminate tomatoes. If you have a small space, I suggest you buy a good determinate tomato such as 'Celebrity' or 'Mountain Delight.'

But if you have an extremely small space, I suggest a dwarf or patio variety. Cultivars such as 'Pixie' and 'Patio' are dwarf cherry tomatoes that can be grown in containers. For a small plant with larger fruit, you might try 'Husky Red' or 'Husky Gold,' which are slow-growing indeterminate tomatoes that can be pruned to keep them small.

Our children have outgrown the sandbox; we are planning to turn the area into a vegetable garden. Can we spread the sand out and till it into the soil?

This could be a good or bad idea depending on how big the area is, how much sand you have and what kind of soil you are starting with. If you are starting with heavy clay soil, I would be very careful. When sand is mixed with clay, it binds together and can become very hard when it dries out. In that situation, the solution is to spread the sand over a large area and add lots of organic matter. The organic matter will help break up the clay and ensure that the sand does not bind with it.

I would recommend that you add at least a 3-inch layer of organic matter to accomplish this. If you are lucky enough to have a soil that is already high in organic matter, this extra work may not be necessary. In that case, I would simply spread the sand out and till it.

Checklist

1. It's annual planting time in Baltimore City. The last frost date is past and most annual flowers and vegetables can be planted. If you live in outlying areas, you will need to wait one to two more weeks before you plant.

2. Small plants dry out very quickly on warm spring days. Be sure to keep them watered until their roots are well established.

Dennis Bishop is an urban horticulture educator for the Baltimore office of the Maryland Cooperative Extension Services. If you have a gardening or pest problem, you can call the Home and Garden Information Center hot line (Monday through Friday, 8 a.m. to 1 p.m.) at 800-342-2507. You can also e-mail questions, order publications and diagnose plant problems by visiting the Web site www.hgic.umd.edu.

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