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6 ways to help your tomato plants withstand a heat wave

| Friday, Aug. 3, 2018, 1:33 a.m.
Nothing beats a garden-fresh tomato on a summer’s day.
Courtesy Lake Valley Seed
Nothing beats a garden-fresh tomato on a summer’s day.

Tomatoes thrive in full sun. But can soaring temperatures be too much of a good thing for sun-loving plants during a heat wave?

We turned to Tomatomania’s Scott Daigre, author of the book “Tomatomania!: A Fresh Approach to Celebrating Tomatoes in the Garden and in the Kitchen,” who says “six to eight hours of sun (a day) is all a tomato plant needs so shade accordingly.”

Plants can thrive in the heat, Daigre says, but they won’t pollinate and produce new fruit. Here, Daigre offers tips on how to keep your tomatoes going strong during the hot summer months:

1. Shade

“The plant needs shade for developing fruit. Try to take the heat off from noon to 4 p.m. They need sun, they just don’t need sun all day in 105 degrees. Be creative. I wrapped some of my container plants like an ice cream cone. I used a row cover to drape over my tomato cages. Row cover is very light and primarily protects against birds. You can water though it. Some people are using umbrellas. One of my readers told me he put up a wire structure and layered it with palm fronds. It was a South Seas island shelter.”

2. Deep water

“The goal is to soak the root ball. Soak the plant well in the morning and then don’t water it for a few days … The key is to make sure you are giving the plant abundant water every few days rather than a little bit of water every day.”

3. Remove colored fruit early

“Don’t expect too much from your plants. Grab fruit early if it is colored. You may not want to wait for it to ripen (when temperatures are expected to soar.) If you are picking early, clip the tomatoes and put them on a cool kitchen counter for awhile. It will eventually ripen and taste great.”

4. Mulch

“Mulch. Mulch. Mulch. The more you mulch, the more you can shield the soil from the hot breeze. I use straw all the time which is available at any feed store. Put an inch of compost underneath it to feed the soil. That way, you protect the upper layer and cool the soil.”

5. Container plants

“Container plants are taking the biggest hit because you can’t deep water them in a pot. You have to water the plant every day. Twice a day perhaps in heat like this.”

6. Looking ahead

“This heat wave is one of the reasons that I recommend planting north to south rows. That way, the plants get exposure to the sun but don’t get sun all day long.”

Lisa Boone is a writer for the Los Angeles Times.

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