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Ask Dr. Hort: Follow these tips to get tomatoes in tip-top shape

Cherry tomatoes

Lara Cerri | Times (2011)

Cherry tomatoes

What to do about fused tomato?

Q: I'm relying on your expertise to tell me what might be going on with my tomato. It appears to be two tomatoes fused into one. Half of the tomato is ready to harvest, but the other half remains green. Should I leave it alone so the green side ripens or pick it? Monica Troxel

A: Wow, it's conjoined twins! Isn't nature grand! You could carefully bisect the two, eat the red side and make "fried green tomato" out of the other side or pick it and wait for the other side to ripen. You make the call!

Planting time is key with tomatoes

Q: We vacation here on Anna Maria Island for three months. When we arrive in January we plant tomato plants in containers where they get plenty of sun and we water when dry. We have tried full-size grape and cherry tomatoes but they never seem to get big enough. Now our grape and cherry tomatoes' leaves are shrinking and turning brown. What are we doing wrong? Linda from New Jersey

A: Your tomato troubles start with your planting date. You are planting in between the two main gardening start times, which are August and February. With a warm winter like this year you should have enough warm days to have tomatoes before you head back north. In a normal Florida winter, there are enough chilly nights that will postpone flowering and fruiting until after you head north. The next best thing to do is wait until you get back to New Jersey to plant your tomatoes. If you catch the winter weather next year as warm as it was this year, use a peat-based mix like Pro-Mix, Fafard or Miracle Gro Potting Mix for optimum results; don't use potting soil!

Tips for growing cherry tomatoes

Q: What are the best cherry tomato plants for our area? I'm interested in doing container gardening and could really use your help with what plants would be most productive, disease resistant and can do well here. Gerri

A: To have the most success with cherry-type tomatoes, container gardening is the only way, and a 7-gallon (#7) nursery container works great. The next very important step is the media to put into your container. Peat-based products work best, such as Pro-Mix, Fafard or Miracle Gro Potting Mix. These products are lightweight, absorb fertilizers well and provide excellent drainage, all attributes that most potting soils don't possess. Now comes the fun. You can choose your plants at your local garden center or, better yet, go on Burpee's website ( and search for cherry tomatoes. You'll find the sky is the limit. There are red ones, yellow ones, heirloom ones, round ones, pear-shaped ones, early ones, late ones. You can purchase seeds or plants. One of my favorites is "Sweet 100."

Last is the ideal fertilization program. You want to choose a soluble fertilizer low in nitrogen (the first number for green leafy growth), plenty of phosphorus (the middle number for strong roots and stems) and lots of potassium (the last number for flowering and fruit size), such as Jack's 10-30-20 or Sun Bulb Orchid Bloom Booster 11-35-15, and alternate weekly with calcium nitrate to prevent blossom end rot. Water thoroughly until water weeps through drain holes, as needed. If you follow these guidelines and give plenty of sunshine, you'll be the envy of the neighborhood, your family and your friends!

Need help? Dr. Hort (Greg Charles) answers questions about garden problems. E-mail him at or mail questions to HomeLink, Features Department, Tampa Bay Times, P.O. Box 1121, St. Petersburg, FL 33731. Describe problem in full, and include your name, city of residence and contact information. If possible, include a good-quality photo. Fuzzy ones won't do. Photos cannot be returned.

Ask Dr. Hort: Follow these tips to get tomatoes in tip-top shape 04/07/12 [Last modified: Saturday, April 7, 2012 4:31am]
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