Tough Times for Texas Tomatoes

Dry, hot conditions lead to poor growing conditions

If you’re a Texas gardener, you know it’s been a terribly tough year for Texas tomatoes…and the folks who grow them.

 “It’s near the end of the summer gardening season, and most of us are wondering where are all those beautiful, red ripe tomatoes have been,” said Dr. Russ Wallace, Texas AgriLife Extension Service vegetable specialist at Lubbock.

“Don’t feel like a failure, the lack of a crop plagued most West Texas tomato growers and many others across the state,” Wallace said. “Tomatoes are native to South America, and grow best under more temperate climates. The best air temperatures for tomato pollination are 68-75 degrees Fahrenheit at night and 60-90 degrees during the day.

“Our Lubbock May through Sept. 14 optimal growing months mostly averaged daily highs of 95 degrees or hotter with very little nighttime cool-down. Spritz those temperatures with a scant 1.17 inches of rain, add low humidity and stir in high winds, and you’ve cooked up the perfect recipe for tomato disaster.”

Wallace said while many tomato plants made ample vegetative growth this year, the high temperatures caused the flowers to abort. The heat also caused the stems and leaves to curl and roll — a condition called physiological leaf rolling. 

“Generally, the leaf rolling doesn’t reduce yields, but the condition coupled with this year’s extreme weather caused the plants to just shut down,” he said.

What can tomato growers do to prevent losses again next year? If next year is like this year, not much, according to Wallace. Ways gardeners can limit risk include:
– Select heat-tolerant varieties.
– Avoid heirloom varieties that yield less than hybrids and require more vine care.
– Plant as early as possible by protecting plants with clear plastic-wrapped cages.
– Plant where late afternoon shade helps cool the plants to reduce blossom drop.
– Mulch with shredded bark or white plastic, not heat-absorbing black plastic.
– Water, but not too much, and stick to a fertilizer schedule aimed at optimal growth.

“While Mother Nature certainly wasn’t kind to Texans this year, the good news is that historically, this year has been more the exception than the rule,” Wallace said. “The National Weather Service reported that West Texas temperatures were the hottest on record, even beating those of the Dust Bowl era. “So, for all you eternally optimistic Texas tomato growers, it’s probably best to forget this season and look ahead. There’s always the promise of better times next year.”

 

By: Steve Byrns

Original article can be found at this link:  http://agrilife.org/today/2011/09/19/tough-times-for-texas-tomatoes/

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