Gardening Growing Tomatoes

12 Helpful Tips for Growing Tomatoes in Florida

Growing tomatoes in Florida is not like the other parts of the United States. Different parts of Florida show variations in growing seasons, weather conditions, and tomato varieties.

The major tomato-growing regions in Florida can be divided into five different parts as follows:

  1. The southeastern part of Florida (Miami-Dade County)
  2. East Coast of Florida
  3. Southwest of Florida
  4. West Coast of Florida (Tampa Bay area)
  5. The northwestern part of Florida (Panhandle region of the state)

Around one-third or more fresh market tomatoes produce in those regions of Florida according to the national fresh market tomato acreage.

As a beginner tomato grower in Florida, you must glad to know that you are living in the most suitable place in the United States for growing tomatoes.

However, this is a commercial statistic of the average production of tomatoes in Florida. But that doesn’t confirm you a bounty harvest. As a home gardener, you should also be concerned about the following tips to grow more tomatoes in your backyard.

Tips 1: Learn Florida Growing Regions

Based on growing regions you can divide Florida into three major parts such as North, Central, and South Florida.

However, South Florida gets an extra-large growing season comparatively other parts of the state. You can plant spring crops earlier in fall and winter to produce more tomatoes before the extreme summer heat start.

Tips 2: Understanding the Planting Zones in Florida

Plant hardiness zone map tales you the tentative last and first frost date of a particular growing zone. There are seven plant hardiness zones exist in Florida:

Zone 8a:
Zone  8b:
Zone  9a:
Zone  9b:
Zone  10a:
Zone  10b:
Zone  11a:
10-­‐15°F
15 to 20°F
20 to 25°F
25  to  30°F
30  to  35°F
35  to  40°F
40  to  45°F

According to the USDA plant hardiness zone map, North Florida growing zones are 8a, 8b, and 9a. As well as Central Florida growing zones are 9b-10a and South Florida growing zones are 10b-11a.

However, the zone maps show an average weather condition but in real-time you may get an early or late frost or sometimes no frost at all in some parts of Florida.

Tips 3: Tomato Planting Guide for Florida

The weather condition is unpredictable in Florida. But you have to prepare your stuff ready to get the season from the beginning. To do that you should know the basic planting calendar for tomatoes. Always concern about the weather forecast to take necessary steps before planting tomatoes.

North Florida Tomato Growing Season:

Planting season: February-March and July-August

  • For the spring season, plant your tomato seeds indoors in January and care for 4-6 weeks up to the last frost fall date.
  • After one or two weeks of the last frost fall transplant your tomato seedlings outdoors in February to March.
  • For the fall season, you may prepare your tomato seeds indoor or outdoor with proper shade from June for 4 weeks and transplant them later.
  • Water your tomatoes regularly, fertilize your garden soil, mulch them and provide staking or caging if necessary.
  • Monitor tomato plants regularly to protect them from pests and diseases.
  • Based on tomato varieties you need around 60 to 100 days for your expected harvest.

Central Florida Tomato Growing Season:

Planting season: JanuaryFebruary and August-September

  • For early summer tomatoes, prepare tomato seeds indoors in December and care for 4-6 weeks until the last frost fall.
  • Transplant tomato seedlings outdoors after the last frost date in January to early February.
  • For early winter tomatoes, plant your tomato seedlings in August to early September.
  • Care your tomato plants with watering, fertilizing, mulching and staking them.
  • Monitor them properly to protect them from pests and diseases.
  • It will take around 60-100 days for the harvest depends on the varieties.

South Florida Tomato Growing Season:

Planting season: August-February

  • For fall tomatoes, transplant tomato seedling in August to September.
  • For spring tomatoes, transplant tomato seedling from November to February.
  • Water them properly, take proper care and monitor them to protect from pests and diseases.
  • Based on tomato varieties you may wait for 60-100 days for healthy juicy tomatoes.

Tips 4: Right Place Selections for Growing Tomatoes in Florida

Tomatoes are warm loving plants. So, choose a place for your plants that get at least 8 hours of direct sunlight for a great harvest. 

Move your container tomatoes to some suitable places where they will receive enough sunlight to grow well. 

Tips 5: Soil Amendment for Growing Tomatoes in Florida

At first, do the soil tests using a soil test kit. Tomatoes like a little bit acidic soil with a pH level of around 6 to 6.8 in scale. You can also go to your local agricultural extension center to do the soil test and further instructions. (Learn more)

Tomato performs better in loam or sandy loam soil with a good drainage system. Whereas Florida soils are sandy. It means the soil has no water retention capacity and doesn’t contain any nutrients for plants.

To develop this sandy soil for tomatoes you can add coco coir, peat moss or leaf mold to increase the water holding capacity. Besides you can also mulch your tomatoes to hold the soil moisture last longer.

Moreover, you can add good quality compost, animal or poultry manure to increase the soil nutrients before planting tomatoes.

Tips 6: How to Fertilize Tomatoes in Florida

Tomatoes need a different portion of nutrients in different stages of plant growth. At first, do the soil test to know the present soil condition to provide the necessary nutrients.

In the beginning, stage tomato plants need more nitrogen to develop stems and leaves. During flowering and fruiting time they need less nitrogen and more phosphorus and potassium. 

Besides the tomato plants also need some micronutrients like calcium, magnesium, and sulfur to grow healthy and juicy tomatoes.

So, you should fertilize your tomatoes with the perfect ration of N-P-K (Nitrogen, Phosphorous, and Potassium). And must need the soil test report to measure the required nutrients for your plants. (Learn More)

Tips 7: How to Water Tomatoes in Florida

Florida is warmer than other states of America. So, you need to ensure proper irrigation for your tomato plants. Overwatering and less water supply both will be harmful to your tomatoes. So, you need to maintain a schedule watering for your plants.

There are different types of watering methods you can apply to water tomatoes effectively.

Always check the soil around your plants before watering. Push your finger inside the topsoil around 2 inches. If you feel its dry then water them.

Provide 3-gallons of water at a time for a matured tomato plants in warm days.

Morning is the best time for watering tomato plants. But if your tomatoes demand more, water them twice before evening and never water them at night.

For container tomatoes, you need to provide watering twice or thrice based on the weather condition. (Learn More)

Tips 8: Staking Tomato Plants

Tomato stems are not enough sturdy to bear the weight when they fully loaded with fruits. So, they start sprawling and lay on the ground. As a result, fewer plant leaves receive sunlight.

Besides, when the tomatoes touch the ground, they are more susceptible to soil-borne diseases.

Staking or caging protect your plants from some diseases and produce fresh and clean fruits.

Usually, determinate tomato plants don’t need any support but they perform better when getting one. On the other hand, indeterminate tomato plants must need support.

Tips 9: Florida Tomatoes Need Mulching

Due to hot weather conditions, the soil dries out quickly in Florida, although providing deep irrigation to the tomato plants. In that case, mulching retains soil moisture for longer.

You can mulch your tomato plants with leaves, straw, grass clippings, newspapers or any organic matter. 

Tips 10: Tomato Pests in Florida

Florida’s subtropical climate is very suitable for growing tomatoes and other vegetables but it also attracts many insects and pests such as hornworms, aphids, stinkbugs, whiteflies, cutworms, pinworms, mole crickets, fruit worms, leaf miners, and loopers.

You can use some organic, biological or chemical treatments to control insect damage. Besides, you may also apply cultural control and invite some natural predators in your garden to control these harmful insects and pests.

Hornworms:

  • Create large holes on leaves and extreme leaves falling.
  • Besides, you may find scarring on fruit surfaces and sunscald also may appear on tomato fruits due to defoliation.
  • Till the garden soil at the beginning and end of the season to kill the larvae of the moths. 
  • Pinch off the eggs of moths on tomato leaves. You can find them in late spring; adult moths produce eggs on the backside of leaves.
  • You may also control hornworms by handpicking.
  • Insecticides or insecticidal soaps are also helpful for preventing tomato hornworms.

Aphids:

  • They are very tiny insects that cause huge damage on tomato stems, leaves, and fruits.
  • It can survive in any growing zone.
  • Transmit diseases and invite other insects.
  • Spray cold water on leaves at the primary stage.
  • Dusting tomato plants with flour in severe cases.
  • Neem oil, chemical spray, insecticidal soaps or other cultural control may be effective for Aphids.
  • You can also spry a mild solution of dish soap with water every 2-3 days for 2 weeks.
  • Companion planting and beneficial insects can also prevent aphids.

Stink bugs:

  • Stink bugs use their long mouthparts to pierce tomato leaves, stems, and particularly young fruits.
  • They transmitted diseases, pierce and poop on tomato fruits and leaves.
  • Piercing part of fruits causes discoloration but safe to eat.
  • Remove weeds and debris from your garden to prevent them.
  • Check the backside of leaves and fruit clusters and pick them up by hand.
  • Then knock those picked bugs into a jar to kill them.
  • Spry insecticidal soap or neem sprays to kill the young bugs.

Whiteflies:

  • Sweet potato and greenhouse whiteflies species are mostly harmful to tomato plants.
  • They live by feeding tomato leaves and hide undersides of leaves.
  • Causes leave curling and yellowing.
  • Transmitted diseases like Tomato Yellow Leaf Curl.
  • Cultural and biological control may apply to prevent whiteflies.
  • Besides you can spray organically approved insecticidal soaps.

Cutworms:

  • If you see any of your seedlings fall over on the ground after transplanting as if someone cut it from the base may cause by cutworms.
  • Cutworms mainly attack newly transplanted tomato seedlings at night.
  • They feed the young seedling from the base causing the plants to fall and die. 
  • Tomato plants height below 12 inches mainly susceptible to cutworms due to their soft stems.
  • Till the field properly at least two weeks before planting tomatoes to prevent cutworms attack.
  • Pick them off at night by hand using a flashlight and leave them off into a bowl full of soapy water to kill them.
  • Remove weeds and plant debris surrounding your garden.
  • Covered around your plants with coffee grounds or eggshells.
  • For a small garden, you can use plant collars. You can make it by using cardboard or remove the base of a plastic cup and set them over the top of each young seedling into the ground.

Pinworms:

  • Pinworms cause serious damage to tomato plants.
  • They usually feed on tomato leaves and often attack stems and fruits.
  • You may see tunnels on the tomato leaves, leaf curling or tiny holes in fruits.
  • Crop rotation and avoid host plants may effective to prevent pinworms.
  • Clean up the garden debris, host plants, and weeds.
  • Once symptoms appear on leaves and fruits chemical treatment is needed.
  • Remove the infected leaves and fruits daily.
  • However, tomato pinworms are not harmful to the human body. 

Mole crickets:

  • Mole crickets attack the base stem of the young tomato plants. They mainly attack plants during the early morning. 
  • They burrowing around the stem base and damage the roots, stems and lower leaves of the newly transplanted plants like cutworms.
  • Some biological control may be effective to control mole crickets attack.
  • Chemical treatment like imidacloprid works at the beginning stage.

Fruit worms:

  • Fruit worms damage tomato stems, leaves and fruits. They prefer green tomatoes.
  • The larvae of fruit worm moths start damaging the tomatoes from inside and often look normal from outside at the beginning stages.
  • The moths lay their eggs on fruits and the larvae do the rest. The larvae feed the tomatoes from inside and become mature.
  • The worms may create a pea-size hole in fruits.
  • Infested tomatoes are not edible.
  • Never plant tomatoes near the cornfield to prevent fruit worms attack.  
  • For small garden covering entire plants with fine net fabric.
  • Invite natural predators and take biological control.
  • Apply neem oil spray once a week.
  • You can also apply insecticidal soap after heavy rain.

Leaf miners:

  • Leaf miners draw silvery lines across the infested tomato leaves.
  • They cause minor damage on tomato leaves.
  • In severe cases, they reduce plants’ vigorousness and overall production.
  • Remove and destroy infected leaves.
  • The yellow sticky paper trap is an easy solution for controlling the leaf miners.

Loopers:

  • They feed only foliage not fruits and damage is not very serious.
  • Pick them off by hand and remove the infected leaves.

Tips 11: Tomato Diseases in Florida

As a warm region Florida is more susceptible to diseases like bacterial spot, late blight, tomato spotted wilt, tomato yellow leaf curl virus (TYLCV), fusarium wilt, early blight, bacterial wilt, and others.

You can take some preventive steps to protect your tomatoes from these devastating diseases by confirming the right methods of watering, providing necessary nutrients to the plants, mulching, and staking your tomato plants. However, you have to monitor your tomato plants regularly.

The best way to avoid diseases by planting diseases resistance tomato varieties and rotate your crops every year.

Tips: 12: Best Tomato Varieties in Florida

There are thousands of tomato varieties commonly found in the United States. But all the tomatoes are not suitable for Florida. Even Florida has three major weather conditions with several growing regions.

Here I listed the most familiar tomato varieties in Florida.

Tomato Varieties for South and Central Florida:

Round Tomatoes:

‘BHN 602’,  ‘BHN 730’, ‘BHN 975’, ‘Camaro’, ‘Charger’, ‘Crista’, ‘Everglade’, ‘FL 47’, ‘FL 91’, ‘Grand Marshall’, ‘HM 1823’, ‘Phoenix’, ‘Raceway’, ‘Red Morning’, ‘Red Rave’, ‘Resolute’, ‘Rocky Top’, ‘Sanibel’, ‘Sebring’, ‘Skyway’, ‘Solar Fire’, ‘Soraya’, ‘Southern Ripe’, ‘SV 7631’, ‘Tasti-Lee’, ‘Volante’.

Plum tomato:

‘BHN 685’, ‘Daytona’, ‘Mariana’, ‘Monticello’, ‘Sunoma’, ‘Supremo’, ‘Tachi’.

Grape tomato:

‘Amai’, ‘BHN 784’, ‘BHN 785’, ‘Jolly Girl’, ‘Sweet Hearts’.

Cherry tomato:

‘BHN 268’, ‘BHN 762’, ‘Camelia’, ‘Sakura’, ‘Shiren’, ‘Sweet Treats’.

Heirloom tomato:

‘Amana Orange’, ‘Brandywine’, ‘Big Zebra’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Green Zebra’, ‘(Jaune) Flamme’, ‘Pruden’s Purple’, ‘Striped German’.

Tomato Varieties for North Florida:

Round tomatoes:

’Abraham Lincoln’, ‘Amelia’, ‘Aunt Ruby’s German Green’, ‘Bella Rosa’, ‘Big Rainbow’, ‘BHN 602’, ‘Black Krim’, ‘Camaro’, ‘Cherokee Purple’, ‘Crista’, ‘Everglade’, ‘Fletcher’, ‘FL 47’, ‘Grand Marshall’, ‘Homestead 24’,  ‘Quincy’, ‘Red Morning’, ‘Red Rave’, ‘Resolute’, ‘Sebring’, ‘Skyway’, ‘Southern Ripe’, ‘SV 7631’, ‘Tasti-Lee’, ‘Volante’, ‘Zapotec’.

Plum tomato:

‘BHN 685’, ‘Daytona’, ‘Mariana’, ‘Monticello’, ‘Picus’, ‘Sunoma’, ‘Tachi’.

Grape tomato:

‘Amai’, ‘BHN 784’, ‘BHN 1022’, ‘Brixmore’, ‘Cupid’, ‘Green Grape’, ‘Jolly Girl’, ‘Smarty’, ‘Sundrop’, ‘Sweet Hearts’, ‘Tami G’.

Cherry tomato:

‘BHN 268’, ‘BHN 762’, ‘Brown Cherry’, ‘Camelia’, ‘Gold Nugget’, ‘Shiren’, ‘Snow White’, ‘Sweet Treats’.

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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