Growing Fall tomatoes in Texas can be one of the most disheartening endeavors a gardener can attempt. It's a common scenario: The blistering summer heat finally ends in September and the temperatures recede back into the 80's - sometimes all the way through November. To us optimistic gardeners this seems like the perfect time to plant out a 2nd crop of tomatoes. The tomato plants grow wonderfully and the cooler nights provide the perfect temperature for flowering and fruit set. We watch the healthy green tomatoes grow to their full potential and then we wait for the first sign of color...and we wait.....and wait. Just when the first tomatoes begin to ripen the nights begin getting cooler and cooler and suddenly the forecast shows a cold front on the horizon that will threaten the whole crop, so we start making fried green tomatoes in an attempt to gain something from all of our hard work. Sound familiar?
Growing a successful Fall tomato crop in Texas takes careful planning and an awareness of a few key factors:
Timing of planting
Fall tomatoes should be planted as transplants around the beginning of August in order for the plants to have enough time to grow to the ripening stage before it gets too late in the fall. The tricky part about this is finding transplants for sale in July. Even if you do find transplants, chances are they won't necessarily be varieties that will meet the rest of the criteria outlined below. I highly recommend starting your own transplants, which comes with its own set of challenges because this will need to be done in mid-July when it is 100+ degrees outside.
Transplants need sufficient light in order to grow healthy, strong, and bushy. The problem with trying to start seedling trays in the sun in Texas in July is that the soil will heat up to a temperature not suitable for healthy root growth. You can work around this by starting transplants in a garage or work space with LED lights (click here to read my blog about starting plants indoors). Setting up a LED grow light in a garage will allow you to get maximum light needed for healthy growth, while keeping the seedlings out of the damaging Texas sun until they have reached a healthy size. You can use fans or air conditioning to grow the seedlings in a comfortable environment (somewhere between 75 and 85 degrees would be ideal).
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
Before you purchase your seedlings, or grow them yourself with LED lights, it is essential to understand a few terms when it comes to tomatoes. The first set of terms to become familiar with is determinate vs. indeterminate. When you purchase seeds this designation should always be clearly marked on the packet or website.
Determinate tomatoes are sometimes referred to as "bush tomatoes" because they will generally grow to about 4 or 5 feet and set fruit that will ripen within a short window. They require less trellising because of their size so they can be grown with cages or stakes.
Indeterminate tomatoes, or vine tomatoes, will continue growing indefinitely throughout the season and will continuously set fruit over a long period of time until conditions become unfavorable for them to do so. These tomatoes require taller trellises and a lot more time.
Early vs. late season
The next characteristic to look for when selecting tomatoes is early vs. late season. Early season tomatoes are those that produce faster, or earlier in the season. Late season tomatoes, as you might have already guessed, take much longer to produce.
Size is another major factor when selecting a fall tomato in Texas. The larger beefsteak tomatoes take a long time to ripen on the vine and may not be the best choice when time is of the essence. Selecting medium to small slicing tomatoes, or cherry and grape tomatoes, will ensure a more successful harvest of ripe tomatoes over the course of the season.
Now that you are familiar with some of the characteristics of tomato plants, it is time to select seeds that fit some of the more favorable conditions for the fall in Texas. These characteristics will include one or all of the following: determinate, early season, and smaller size.
Equipped with this knowledge it is time to purchase seeds to start your successful fall tomato planting. I highly recommend you source your seeds from a quality supplier who clearly categorizes their seed stock with well defined characteristics. Purchasing seed from a big box store may not be the most ideal choice here.
I purchased my fall tomato seeds online from a company called Tomato Fest. Tomato Fest is run by a married couple who have been in the tomato business for almost 30 years. You can search their seed inventory using the characteristics listed above. Some varieties I have found that fit some or all of the criteria include:
I highly you suggest you browse this awesome website full of tomatoes and choose some varieties that seem fun and interesting to you. Just keep in mind some of the attributes and characteristics outlined in this post when making your selections. Good luck with your fall tomatoes.
Written by Corey Wahl
If you have tried your hand at gardening in Texas you know one thing is for certain - Texas has unpredictable weather. The trick to growing a successful garden is to get a jump on the season because Spring can go from warm to incredibly hot very suddenly. In order to accomplish this you either need to own a greenhouse, which can be expensive and will take up a lot of space on your property, or you will need to start your transplants indoors. I decided to do the latter this year, so I did some research to figure out the best options to do so.
Through my research I discovered that lighting technology has certainly come a long way. Grow lights used to have many disadvantages: they were big and bulky; they put off a lot of heat which required a lot of expensive ventilation and created a fire hazard; they consumed a lot of energy which made them very expensive to run; or in the case of fluorescent lights they didn't put off enough quality light for optimal plant growth.
Starting plants indoors has its benefits: you can control the temperature, you have less chance of insect damage, and you can increase the amount of light your plants are receiving as compared to the lower light levels outside during the winter.
Here is a list of things to consider if you choose to start transplants indoors:
1. Temperature - Most seeds have an optimal germination temperature of about 70 degrees. Since most of us keep our houses around this temperature anyway, this makes for an optimal environment to start seedlings quickly. If you choose to start your plants in a garage or shed that may be cooler than 70 degrees then you might want to consider a germination heat mat to place under your trays. A space heater can also be used to keep the overall temperature of the room within an ideal range.
2. Air Circulation - Good air circulation is key if you are growing seedlings indoors to prevent fungal or bacterial problems. Utilizing a box fan or any smaller mountable fan will suffice for a smaller table-top operation.
3. Light - Plants need good quality light for optimal plant growth. If your seedlings don't receive enough light they will stretch and become leggy. A leggy plant is hard to recover from. Good quality light will ensure that your plants are compact and healthy. I chose to use four 1500 watt LED lights to cover an area of about 5 ft x 10ft. If you are just starting a few trays you may only need one light to achieve this. The great thing about LED lights is that they don't put off a lot of heat and they consume a lot less energy than high pressure sodium or metal halide grow lights. The LED lights are designed to put off the exact spectrum of light needed by plants too, which means optimal growth is achieved. The lights that I purchased were Yehsence 1500 watt:
4. Quality seedling soil - A good quality seedling mix is ideal when starting seeds in trays indoors. I do not recommend using Miracle Grow or actual soil from your garden. The two brands that I use are SunGro and Happy Frog by Fox Farm. You can usually find these soils at your local feed store or anywhere else they sell gardening supplies. They are available on Amazon as well if you are in a pinch and need them delivered.
5. Moisture - Keeping your seed trays moist will ensure quick germination rates. I use a spray bottle to mist the soil to keep it damp without dislodging the seeds. Once your plants are larger and are consuming more water you will want to water your trays with a watering can. You can take them outside to water them and bring them back in once they have drained, or you can water them in a sink to allow for the water to drain that way.
6. Fertilizer - Using a good quality liquid fertilizer is essential for your transplants to grow healthy roots and shoots. I recommend using an organic fertilizer because they are safe and effective, and you don't have to worry about burning your plants. Liquid fertilizer should be mixed based on the manufacturer's recommendations and applied to your plants about once a week until you are ready to plant your transplants outdoors. My recommendation for liquid fertilizer is Ocean Harvest by Microlife. This product is formulated with macro and micro nutrients, as well as growth stimulators, which are all essential for your plants.
Keeping these key elements in mind will ensure that you grow successful transplants indoors to get a jump on the Texas season. I have hundreds of seedlings growing to prepare for the spring season, as well as to get ready for the plant sale at the farm on May 5th during our Spring Farm Day event.
For more information about the event please visit the Facebook event page at:
Tickets for the event can be purchased at:
Below you will find the list of my favorite seed companies. Each one offers something slightly different, making each of them unique and valuable. I hope you explore them all and have an enjoyable time choosing some fun varieties for your spring garden.
Texas Seed Companies
Willhite Seed, Inc. - Poolville, TX
What started out as a watermelon seed company in a house in 1905 has now blossomed into a more diversified, yet still family owned, seed company in Poolville, TX. They offer a wide-range of vegetable seeds and you can be sure that these varieties will do well here in Texas.
Dixondale Farms - Carrizo Springs, TX
Dixondale Farms is the go-to source for onion sets. This family owned company has been growing onions in Texas for over 100 years and they offer high quality onion sets perfect for growing in Texas. Remember to shop in the "short day" section for onion varieties that will do well here. I have had some success with the "intermediate day" varieties, but they didn't grow as large as they could have in a more Northern region.
East Texas Seed Company
I use the East Texas Seed company for all of my cover crop seed needs. They have great customer service and fast shipping. I recommend planting cowpeas and buckwheat in the summer, and a mix of hairy vetch and clover in the fall, winter, and spring as cover crops.
Native American Seed Company - Junction, TX
Last but not least is the local family owned seed company in Junction, TX called Native American Seed. This company specializes in native Texas grasses and wildflower seeds. They are committed to providing 100% pure native seed and are a great source if you are looking to plant some blue bonnets or any other spring wildflower.
National Seed Companies
Johnny's Seeds - Albion, Maine
This is hands down the best seed company in my opinion. Johnny's is 100% employee owned and committed to quality. They focus on highly productive hybrids, but they do have a good selection of heirloom and organic seeds as well. Their prices tend to be slightly higher than most, but this is a perfect example of "you pay for what you get".
Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds - Mansfield, Missouri
What is there not to love about Baker Creek Seed Company? They're a family owned company with one of the largest collections of heirloom seeds in the world. If you are looking to try something rare, unique, and interesting then you'll want to check them out. I recommend requesting one of their famous seed catalogs because it's always more enjoyable to have something tangible to look through.
Botanical Interests - Broomfield, Colorado
Known for their incredibly detailed and informational seed packets, I always snag some seeds from the Botanical Interests rack at Producer's Co-op in Bryan. They offer a good mix of heirloom and hybrids seeds, and the artwork on the packet is worth every penny.
TomatoFest - California
If you want to grow tomatoes then look no further than TomatoFest. A husband and wife team in California with one of the largest selections of heirloom tomatoes around. I purchased their "hot and humid" collection to grow at the farm this year. One of the owners also happens to be from my hometown of Spokane, WA.
Seeds of Change - Rancho Dominquez, California
Seeds of Change is a seed company that is dedicated to preserving heirloom varieties, all while giving plenty back to the community. They donate 1% of all their sales to community-based garden projects, and have donated more than $1,000,000 to date. They do have an Amazon store, which makes it convenient if you have a Prime account. They also offer nutritious packaged meals if you're ever in a pinch and need a healthy option.
Eden Brothers is my go-to company for ordering bulbs. They do offer a large selection of vegetable and flower seeds as well, but they are a great source for a wide range of perennial bulbs and roots. I will be ordering some gladiolus, ranunculus, and canna bulbs from them very soon!
Native Seeds - Tucson, Arizona
I highly recommend that you support this company as they are preserving some incredibly rare native varieties from the Southwest. Most of what they offer is well adapted to drought and heat, making them perfect seed for Texas gardens. We grew their Navajo Grey Hubbard squash at the farm and served it at the restaurant in the Summer of 2018 - it was a real treat!