Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables among home gardeners. They can be grown successfully in Florida through a number of growing methods—in a traditional vegetable garden, in containers, in a hydroponic system, or even in hanging baskets—so long as you understand a few key concepts.
Timing is everything
Florida’s warm climate means that we can plant tomatoes in late winter or early spring when the rest of the country is still shivering in the cold. But since tomatoes are a warm-weather crop, resist the urge to put them in the ground until the danger of frost has passed.
You can get a head start by starting seedlings indoors and then transplanting them outside once the soil warms up. Or try planting tomatoes in lightweight containers, which will give you the freedom to move the tomatoes to a protected location if a late frost or freeze threatens.
It’s also important that you don’t wait too long to plant your tomatoes, since the plants need enough time to grow and produce fruit before summer temperatures soar. Once average nighttime temperatures climb above a certain point (typically about 80 degrees), large-fruited tomatoes will continue to flower but will stop setting fruit. The exceptions to this rule are cherry and grape tomatoes, which typically perform well throughout Florida summers.
Right plant, right place
Start by thinking about how much space you have. Some types of tomatoes—known as indeterminate varieties—have a large, sprawling growth habit and will require pruning and support. Indeterminate varieties will produce fruit over a period of several months, which some gardeners see as an advantage.
If you’re limited on space, you might want to grow a determinate variety, which will grow in a more compact, bush-like shape, but will produce just a single crop of tomatoes. Keep in mind that most tomatoes can benefit from staking or trellising to help keep fruit off of the ground.
Tomatoes need at least four to six hours of sun per day, so you’ll need to find a sunny spot to plant them. If you’re using lightweight containers, you can always move the containers around the yard to follow the sun throughout the day.
Consider having your soil tested through your local Extension office. Ideally, you’re hoping for a soil that falls in the pH range of 6.2 to 6.5. Also plan on amending the soil with organic materials like composted manure or peat moss before planting your tomatoes.
For container gardening, you can use a commercial potting mix or make your own. When planting the tomatoes, it’s a good idea to plant tomatoes slightly deeper than they were planted in their original pots in order to encourage deeper rooting.