Gardening Growing Tomatoes

12 Things to Know Before Growing Tomatoes in Arizona

Arizona experiences a complex climate due to mountains and desert valleys. So, when you are thinking about growing tomatoes in Arizona you need to think about the climate condition, soil type and desert friendly tomato varieties for your garden.

Besides, there are some other important factors that you need to be considered before planting tomato plants in your microclimate areas.

Here are some helpful tips to grow tomatoes successfully in Arizona.

1: Know the Tomato Planting Seasons in Arizona

Arizona has two growing seasons for a short time. Mid-February or valentine day is considered the ‘Tomato Day’ to start early planting for the spring season. Besides you can also plant until March for getting the spring season.

Moreover, if you choose heat-tolerant tomato varieties for desert-like conditions then you can extend the season from spring to fall.

On the other side, plant tomatoes July to Mid-August to get the fall season.

Prepare your seedbeds indoor 4-6 weeks before the approximate last frost date of winter or transplanting date. And transplant your tomatoes when the nighttime temperature constantly above 55-60° F.

Before growing tomatoes, you must have a clear idea about Arizona plant hardiness zones. According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map, Arizona has 13 different planting zones ranging from 4b to 10b.

This zone maps will explain to you where your plants can survive in winter and the average winter temperature. It will also tell you the approximate last and first frost date of particular growing seasons. 

(Learn more about hardiness zones and heat zones)

2: How to Grow Tomatoes from Seeds in Arizona

Growing your tomato plants from seed will give you the freedom to choose the varieties you like most. There are thousands of tomato varieties out there but your preferred varieties may not available at commercial nurseries.

As a result, you have to choose tomato varieties that your local nurseries offer you.

So, I suggest you prepare your seedbed earlier to grow your own seedling indoor before the season start. A little hard work can ensure you the best tomato varieties for your local garden. 

Before sowing seeds on the seedbed, see the seed packet instructions. It will tell you the basic information about seed varieties such as growth type (determinate or indeterminate), harvest time, disease resistance, fruit weight and other details of the plants with growing instructions.

3: How to Prepare Soil for Tomatoes in Arizona

Tomato loves loamy or sandy loam soil. However, Arizona soils usually hold sands, rocks, clay, alkalinity, salinity, little fertile to no fertile soils. Besides your local gardening area also be similar to the mountain or desert environment in Arizona.

In this situation, I suggest you know your local soil condition and test your soil fertility at first. No matter which soil condition and fertility your garden has, there are some soil amendments to turn it suitable for growing tomatoes.

An ideal soil amendment develops the physical properties of soil with necessary particles. That means it improves the water holding capacity, aeration, proper drainage system and provides balance nutrients to the plants’ soil which is necessary for growing tomatoes.

You can amend your garden soil adding organic and inorganic matters.

Organic matters come from leaf mold, fallen leaves, old plant roots, grass clippings, wood chips, straw, sawdust, peat moss, manure, wood ash, compost, and other living or once-living materials. 

On the other hand, inorganic matters come from pea gravel, vermiculite, perlite, tire chunks, and sand.

However, I suggest you to use organic matter to amend your garden soil. It improves the water retention capacity of the soil moreover provides necessary nutrients to the plants when needed. 

Do the following tips to amend your garden soil for growing tomatoes in Arizona.

Sandy Soil:

Sandy soil has no water retention capacity and doesn’t contain soil nutrients. But it has a good drainage and aeration system.  Add coco coir, leaf mold or peat moss to develop their water retention capacity. Besides, add good quality compost to provide the necessary nutrients to the plants. 

Clay Soil

Clay soil has good water holding capacity and contains some nutrients. But it has a poor aeration and drainage system.   You can develop this type of soil adding leaf mold, peat moss, sand or coco coir. They help to loosen the soil and confirm proper aeration.

Adding compost also helps to improve the soil condition.

Rocky Soil

Rocky soil drains out quickly and contains fewer nutrients. The major problem of rocky soil is its large particles of rocks which are very difficult to till. So, I suggest you clear the surface rocks and other debris with a rake first and till deeply.

After tilling the soil add some compost, old manure, leaf mold, coco coir, and other organic matters. Then till the soil again to mix the components properly deep into the soil.

Alkaline soil

The neutral level of soil pH is 7. When the soil pH level remains below 7 that is considered acidic soil. On the other side, if the pH level jumps over 7 is considered alkaline soil. However, the average soil pH level in Arizona in between 7 to 8.5 which is mostly alkaline.

Tomatoes like a little bit acidic soil with a pH level between 6 to 6.8. So, when you are going to prepare your soil for tomatoes do the soil test first with a soil pH test kit. Then add aluminum sulfate, leaf mold, sulfur, sulfur-coated urea, acidifying nitrogen or organic mulch for your garden soil.

Nonetheless, peat moss is a great additive for a small garden to reduce soil alkalinity. Besides, manure or organic fertilizer also performs well.

Till the soil deep around 6 to 8 inches to mix the above-mentioned additives properly into the soil.

4: How to Watering Tomatoes in Arizona

Arizona surrounded by deserts and mountains. Moreover, the soil condition of Arizona is poor in most places and needs soil amendment before growing tomatoes.

So watering tomatoes in Arizona is a little bit challenging. You should do the following things to keep moistening your garden soil:

  • Water early in the morning.
  • Apply deep watering around 6 to 8 inches.
  • Water at the base of the tomato plants.
  • Follow the drip watering method.
  • Apply bottle watering methods.
  • Avoid watering at night.
  • Don’t water over the tomato leaves.

5: Fertilizing Tomatoes

Arizona soils particularly contain rocks, clay, and sands due to cover with desert and mountain areas. As a result, the soils are less fertile and more alkaline. 

So, you just need to add good quality compost, old manure and other organic matters to make it suitable for growing tomatoes. 

However, tomato plants need a different amount of soil nutrients N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorus and Potassium) in different stages of plant growth. Besides they need some micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, sulfur for growing healthy tomatoes.

You can also apply some liquid tomato fertilizer to fulfill the nutrients deficiency of your tomato plants. This will help to moisten the soil as well as provide nutrients to the tomato plants.

To provide proper nutrients to your tomato plants do the soil test first to know the present soil health. After getting the soil test report provides a proper portion of fertilizer to the tomato plants.

(Learn more about fertilizing tomatoes)

6: Mulching Tomatoes

Due to Arizona soil conditions, you must mulch your tomatoes. Arizona soils are mostly sandy, rocky, alkaline and clay.

Providing a 2 to 3-inch layer of mulch helps to retain the soil moisture, reduce the soil alkalinity, improve the soil condition and provide some nutrients to the tomato plants.

So, I recommend you to provide organic mulch for your tomatoes.

7: Staking or Caging Tomatoes

Typically, determinate tomatoes don’t need any plant support but indeterminate tomatoes like staking.

If you choose determinate tomato varieties for the garden staking is not mandatory but your tomatoes will be benefited while they get one. However, I recommend staking or caging for both determinate and indeterminate tomatoes getting a healthy harvest.

In the desert areas of Arizona, you may need to shade your tomato plants during the hot season. So, your tomato stakes or cages will help you to set up the shade easily.

8: Provide Shade for Tomatoes in Desert Areas

Tomato plants need shade to reduce the stress of extreme heat of the direct sun at midday. Besides, in the desert area, it also helps to get through the hot days of the summer. 

For shading your tomatoes, you can set up a portable shade structure in your garden. Besides you can also use your tomato stakes or cages to cover the plants by draping them with nursery shade cloths from one side or apply your creative ideas.

Providing shade your tomatoes in desert condition will bring you a lot of benefits such as:

  • Reduces plant stress.
  • Protect your tomatoes from sunscald.
  • Extends the growing season that leads to fall. 
  • Produces more fruits.

9: Tomato Pests and Diseases in Arizona

Warm weather brings both some benefits and threats to your tomato plants. Tomatoes are warm loving plants and they grow quickly and set more fruits if they get the perfect warm condition. 

On the threat side, warm weather also susceptible to some diseases and attract more pests and insects.

Tomato Pests

Tomato hornworm usually appears during hot weather conditions. They are dark green color with a length of a finger. They create large holes in tomato fruits and also damage leaves and stems. Extreme foliage damage often leads to sunscald.

Handpicking is an easy solution for removing hornworms. Besides, till your garden soil before planting and after harvest to destroy the larvae of the moths. You can also apply a chemical treatment to remove hornworms.

Aphids cause huge damage on tomato leaves, stems, and fruits. They also attract other insects and susceptible to some diseases. Besides, they produce young dramatically overnight.

You can apply cold water spray or dusting with flour to prevent their growth. Moreover, you can apply chemical, organic or cultural treatment and check your plants regularly to control them.

The russet mite is another harmful insect of tomato plants. This is rose-colored microscopic mites with conical-shaped which can’t be seen with necked eyes. They suck the leaf juice and the leaves turn yellow and wilt. Gradually the leaves become tan and ultimately die. Insecticidal soap is the common control of these pests.

However, there are some other pests like flea beetles, stinkbugs, and psyllids that also hamper the plants’ growth and reduce production in Arizona.

Tomato Diseases

There are some diseases like blossom-end rot, blossom drop, root rot, curly top virus, wilt, bacterial canker, fusarium crown rot, and cucumber mosaic virus commonly found in Arizona.

Contact your nearest agricultural extension center or talk to local nursery about your tomato plant problems to solve it effectively. 

10: Common Environmental Problems for Growing Tomatoes in Arizona

Arizona shows a multi climate condition due to surrounded by deserts and mountains. As a result, climate variation goes extreme all over the state. So, you may get some bonus problems to become a gardener in Arizona such as:

Tomato plants flowering but not fruiting because of extremely hot weather. Usually, tomatoes don’t set fruits when the temperature goes above 90-95°F or down below 55°F depend on the tomato varieties.

You may also get a shortage of water due to hot and dry weather conditions. So, water deeply or apply a drip watering method to solve the problem. Besides soil structure and the desert area also responsible for lacking water. Therefore, amend your garden soil before growing tomatoes and provide shade to solve the problems.

Besides, wrong tomato varieties for desert climate also reduces the production. So, you should choose desert friendly tomato varieties.

Furthermore, sunburn on tomato leaves and fruits are also a great challenge in Arizona. Hence I suggest you make a shade to protect your tomatoes from direct sun on hot days.

11: How to Choose the Right Tomato Varieties That Grow Well in Arizona

Due to the short growing season, you have to choose tomato varieties very carefully. Besides desert-like condition is another big reason to choose the right tomato varieties in Arizona. So, you need to look for the following qualities exist in your selected varieties.

Varieties with Short Maturity Date:

Select tomato varieties that mature earlier within 50-70 days. The varieties that able to set flowers earlier in cooler condition and ripen sooner to harvest before the hot summer begin.

Diseases Resistance Capacity:

Warm weather brings soil-borne diseases for tomatoes, it is also susceptible to some bacterial and viral infections. So, disease resistance tomato varieties are the best solution to avoid these problems.

Strong Plants:

Tomato plant stems should be enough thicker to withstand desert wind exposure.

Desert Friendly Tomato Varieties:

All the tomato varieties don’t perform equally in desert conditions. So, choose some heat-tolerant and desert friendly tomato varieties if your garden area close to the desert.

Determinate Vs Indeterminate:

Determinate tomato varieties grow a certain length around 2-4 feet. Then stop growing and start producing fruits all at once and die. Therefore, you can harvest within a short time before the summer heat or winter frost come.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and fruiting until the frost kills them. So, you cannot get a satisfactory harvest from indeterminate tomato varieties within a short time in Arizona.

Particularly, determinate tomato varieties will perform better than indeterminate tomatoes in this short growing condition.

On the other hand, if you provide shade to your tomatoes during hot summer days then you can easily extend your growing season lead to fall. Besides, heat tolerance and diseases resistance tomato varieties also help to extend the season.

In that case, you can consider indeterminate tomatoes that suitable to grow in your local areas and enjoy juicy fruits until the frost kills them. 

However, your local weather conditions and personal preferences also help you to determine the right tomato varieties.

12: Best Tomato Varieties for Deserts in Arizona

Based on the above quality you can choose the following tomato varieties for your backyard.

Tomato varieties for short growing season in deserts

Early Girl Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 50-55 days, Weight: 4-8 oz, Plant Height: 6-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: all-round, Flavor: admirable flavor and aroma, Color: red, Usages: fresh, sandwiches, salads, and slicing, Suitable Region: Apache Junction, Phoenix, Saint David, Sierra Vista, Tucson in Arizona; besides suitable for most of the regions in the United States, Diseases Resistance: V, FF, Specialty: matures extremely early and produce around 300 fruits from each tomato plant on average.

Earliana Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Determinate, Harvest Time: 55-65 days, Weight:  6-8 oz, Plant Height: 3-4′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: round, Flavor: sweet, meaty, juicy, Color: bright red, Usages: salads, fresh, slicing, sandwiches, juice, Suitable Region: short growing regions, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: ripen early.

Early Pick Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 62 days, Weight:  8-16 oz, Plant Height:  4-6′ tall, Fruit Size: medium to large, Shape: beefsteak-round, Flavor: old-fashioned tomato flavor, Color: red, Usages: sandwiches, salads, and slicing, Suitable Region: early spring in desert regions, Diseases Resistance: V, F, Specialty: produce fruits in low nighttime temperatures.

Sweet 100 Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 65 days, Weight: 1oz, Plant Height: 7-12′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: Cherry-round, Flavor: deliciously sweet tomatoes, Color: red, Usages: Fresh, snacking, salads, and juice, Suitable Region: Queen Creek, Arizona and other parts of the country, Diseases Resistance: F, V, N, T, Specialty: high in vitamin C and must need staking or caging.

Champion II Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 65 days, Weight:  6-8 oz, Plant Height: 3-5′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: flattened round, Flavor: nice flavor, Color: red, Usages: sandwiches, salads, and slicing, Suitable Region: Flagstaff, Arizona, and other desert regions, Diseases Resistance: V, FF, N, A, TMV, TYLCV, Specialty: early mature tomatoes.

Celebrity Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Semi-determinate, Harvest Time: 65-72 days, Weight: 7-12oz, Plant Height: 3-4′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: Globe-round, Flavor: Excellent flavor, Color: pinkish-red, Usages: Sandwiches, fresh, slicing, snacks, and bruschetta, Suitable Region: Suitable for most of regions especially Apache Junction, Phoenix, Sierra Vista, Waddellin Arizona, Diseases Resistance: V, FF, N, T, A, Specialty: strong vines and perform better with staking or caging.

Super Sioux Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Semi-Determinate, Harvest Time: 70 days, Weight: 4-6 oz, Plant Height: 4-5′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: flattened round, Flavor: sweet and flavorful, Color: red, Usages: fresh, salads, sandwiches, sauce, slicing, and canning, Suitable Region: Tucson, Arizona, and other hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: crack-resistant, Specialty: early ripen plants.

Burbank Slicing Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Determinate, Harvest Time: 70 days, Weight: 6-8 oz, Plant Height: 3′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: globe-round, Flavor: complex tomato flavors, Color: red, Usages: Fresh, sandwiches, salads, slicing, and canning, Suitable Region: dry regions, Diseases Resistance: crack-resistant, Specialty: best for canning and high in amino acids.

Eva Purple Ball Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 70 days, Weight: 5-8 oz, Plant Height: 4-7′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: round, Flavor: sweet and juicy, Color: deep pink, Usages: salads, fresh, sandwiches, salsas, canning, and sauces, Suitable Region: best perform in hot and humid regions, Diseases Resistance: LB, Specialty: crack Resistant.

Porter Improved Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 70-75 days, Weight:  3-4 oz, Plant Height: 5-7′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: large cherry-round, Flavor: excellent, Color: red, Usages: fresh, juice, sauce, salads, and canning, Suitable Region: Tucson, Arizona and some other hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: V, F, Specialty: need staking.

Patio Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Determinate, Harvest Time: 70 days, Weight: 3-4 oz, Plant Height: 2′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: cherry round, Flavor: sweet, Color: red, Usages: fresh, salad, slicing, Suitable Region: throughout the united states, Diseases Resistance: F, A, St, Specialty: dwarf tomato varieties that suitable for containers and small places, need plant support.

Brandywine OTV Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 72-85 days, Weight: 12-16 oz, Plant Height: 5-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Large, Shape: Flatten-Globe, Beefsteak, Flavor: admirable sweet flavor, Color: pinkish-red, Usages: Fresh, salad, slicing, Suitable Region: extreme hot regions, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: a heavy yield potato leaf variety.

Tomato varieties for the extended growing season in deserts

Amish Paste Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 80-85 days, Weight: 8-12 oz, Plant Height:  4-6′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: oxheart to plum, Flavor: sweet, juicy, meaty, Color: red, Usages: salads, fresh, soups, ketchup, puree, canning, sauce, and paste, Suitable Region: hot regions, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: world-class flavor.

Beefmaster Tomato

Hybrid, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 80 days, Weight: 16-32 oz, Plant Height: 6-10′ tall, Fruit Size: Giant, Shape: Flatten-round, Flavor: Sweet, meaty, and very flavorful, Color: Red, Usages: Sandwiches, salads, and slicing, Suitable Region: Grows almost everywhere, Diseases Resistance: V, F, N, A, St, TSWV, Specialty: suitable for desert region, need staking or caging.

(See the Tomato Diseases Resistance Codes)

Arkansas Traveler Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 75-85 days, Weight: 6-8 oz, Plant Height: 6-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: Round, Flavor: old-fashioned tomato flavor, Color: pink, Usages: fresh, sandwiches, salads, canning, drying and slicing, Suitable Region: Grows well everywhere particularly Holbrook in Arizona, Diseases Resistance: Crack resistant, Specialty: extreme heat-tolerant and suitable even in drought

Marvel Striped Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 85-95 days, Weight:  16-32 oz, Plant Height:  5-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Giant, Shape: beefsteak, Flavor: sweet and fruity flavor, Color:  Bi-Colored (yellow, orange and red-colored streaking), Usages: salads and sandwiches, Suitable Region: hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: heat and drought tolerant, need staking or caging.

Purple Calabash Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 83-90 days, Weight:  9-12 oz, Plant Height:  5-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Large, Shape: beefsteak, pumpkin-shaped, Flavor: wine-like flavors, Color: deed purple, Usages: fresh, salads, slicing, and sandwiches, Suitable Region: hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: crack-resistant, Specialty: drought tolerant, staking or caging needed.

Thessaloniki Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 75-80 days, Weight:  6-8 oz, Plant Height:  4-6′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: round, Flavor: sweet, old-fashioned tomato flavor, Color: red, Usages: salads, slicing, sandwiches, and canning, Suitable Region: dry regions, Diseases Resistance: crack-resistant, sunscald,  Specialty: store for longer time.

Cherokee Purple Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 85 days, Weight:  8-12 oz, Plant Height: 5-7′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: beefsteak, Flavor: old-fashioned tomato flavor, Color: purple-black, Usages: sandwiches, salads, and slicing, Suitable Region: hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: need plant support.

Great White Beefsteak Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 85 days, Weight:  12-32 oz, Plant Height: 6-8′tall, Fruit Size: Giant, Shape: beefsteak, Flavor: sweet, juicy and meaty, Color: creamy white, Usages: slicing, sandwiches, salads and sauces, Suitable Region: both hot and cooler regions, Diseases Resistance: drought, crack and sunscald resistant due to produce heavy foliage, Specialty: few sweets and very sweet, need plant support.

Costoluto Genovese Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 78-85 days, Weight: 7 oz, Plant Height: 4-6′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: odd shape, Flavor: outstanding flavor, slightly tart, Color: deep red, Usages: sauces, juice, paste, Suitable Region: suitable for both warm and cooler regions of the United States especially Tonto Basin and Tucson in Arizona, Diseases Resistance: unknown, Specialty: heat tolerant, and suitable for greenhouse.

Yellow Pear Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 80 days, Weight:  2-4 oz, Plant Height:  6-8′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: pear-shaped cherry, Flavor: mild-flavored, Color: yellow, Usages: fresh, salads, Suitable Region: Grows well throughout the United States particularly Mesa, Sierra Vista, Sonoita, Surprise, Tucson in Arizona, Diseases Resistance: A, LB, Specialty: able to survive in summer and set fruits, need plant support.

Homestead 24 Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Semi-determinate, Harvest Time: 80-85 days, Weight:  8-12 oz, Plant Height:  4-6′ tall, Fruit Size: Medium, Shape: Globe-round, Flavor: nice flavor, Color: Red, Usages: fresh, sandwiches, salads, slicing, and canning, Suitable Region: hot and humid regions, southern regions, Diseases Resistance:  F, A, fruit cracking, cat facing, Specialty: extreme heat tolerance.

Prize of the Trials Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Indeterminate, Harvest Time: 80 days, Weight:  2 oz, Plant Height:  5-7′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: cherry-round, Flavor: very flavorful, Color: orange, Usages: fresh, salads, garnishes, or culinary creations, Suitable Region: hot and dry regions, Diseases Resistance: crack-resistant, Specialty: need staking or caging.

Roma VF Tomato

Heirloom, Growth: Determinate, Harvest Time: 75- 80 days, Weight:  2-4 oz, Plant Height:  4-5′ tall, Fruit Size: Small, Shape: plum, Flavor: meaty and flavorful, Color: red, Usages: sauce, fresh, paste, soup, ketchup, tomato juice, puree, and canning, Suitable Region: suitable for hot regions, Diseases Resistance: V, F, Specialty: very few seeds, perfect for greenhouse and commercial production.

(Learn more drought and heat tolerant tomato varieties)

Sources and Citations:

John Michael
John Michael is a self-help writer and a hobby gardener. He has a bachelor's degree in Library Science. Michael’s passion in writing is to inspire the beginner gardeners to not just “hang in there” or “make it through” but to thrive. He does this through blogging at ofags.com. He began writing in 2017.

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