San Antonians remain optimistic about vegetable gardening in Central Texas

Vegetable gardens have had to endure extreme Texas weather in recent years, but they can be restored.

Vegetable gardens have had to endure extreme Texas weather in recent years, but they can be restored.

Helen H. Richardson/Denver Post via Getty Images

Vegetable and flower gardens have been taking it on the chin these past few years. The gardens may not have been very productive because of the freezes, record hot weather and drought, but the enthusiasm for the new Rodeo Tomato, Thunderbird, as determined by the interest in our scheduled “potting up” exercises, has made it clear that area gardeners are optimists when it comes to trying a new tomato.

The response to the first potting-up class scheduled at the new Dreamhill Estates Education Resource Center, 6802 Dorothy Louise Drive, has encouraged the neighborhood and its co-sponsor, Milberger’s Nursery, to schedule a second class at 9:30 a.m. Feb. 25 at the nursery on Bulverde and Loop 1604. Up to 40 gardeners can receive a free Thunderbird tomato with the container and potting soil by calling the nursery at 210-497-3760.

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I will lead a discussion on what it takes to successfully grow tomatoes in the challenging weather and soil of Central Texas.

An important part of the discussion will revolve around why the Thunderbird, Celebrity, Tycoon, Red Deuce, Red Snapper and other Rodeo Tomatoes outperform other tomatoes in our area. They are determinate or demi-determinate, so the plants grow quickly to full size and then concentrate on producing fruit. With determinate tomato varieties, there is very little negotiation with the weather, and the tomatoes are produced as expected.

In addition, we will review the onion and broccoli situation. It is probably too late for new transplants, but they need some fertilizer and definitely weed control if you have a lush crop of rescue grass, bedstraw or henbit like most of the plantings that I have seen.

It is, however, a good time to plant potatoes. You won't get the same yield as you would in Idaho or Maine, but new potatoes are easy to grow in San Antonio and wonderful to cook and eat. We will discuss the particulars and provide a handout so you can grow new potatoes along with your Rodeo Tomatoes.

Tomatoes can be potted before being planted in the vegetable garden.

Tomatoes can be potted before being planted in the vegetable garden.

Ben Birchall - PA Images/PA Images via Getty Images

“Potting up” tomatoes involves planting transplants into a 1-gallon or larger black plastic container filled with potting mix and fertilized with Osmocote. The idea of “potting up” is to take advantage of access to a special tomato variety like the Rodeo Tomato when limited number of transplants are available, and cold soil and variations in air temperatures make it impractical to plant them in the garden.

The potted tomatoes are placed out of the wind in full sun, where they can take advantage of the weather that will contribute to fast growth.  The “potted up” tomatoes in the 1-gallon containers can also easily be carried to shelter if challenging weather like the February 2021 freeze shows up again.  
The expectation is that some time between March 15 and April 15 is the best time to place tomato transplants in the garden. In the meantime, they should be “potted up."

This week in the garden
  • Why don't horticulturists recommend planting pecan trees for shade as much as they once did? Pecan trees do best when they are growing in deep soils and have access to adequate irrigation. They also are inclined to lose branches and drop aphid honey dew on autos, homes and sidewalks.
  • What are some of the shrubs that can be planted in area landscapes that deer won't eat? In the sun, plant Texas mountain laurel. In the shade, viburnum is not eaten by deer. Dwarf and standard yaupon holly are not eaten by deer, nor are boxwood, esperanza, poinciana and dwarf Chinese holly.
  • Prune the old wood of blackberries out of the berry patch to make room for the new stems that produce the current year's fruit. If the old stems are not removed, it becomes very difficult to harvest the fruit because of the thorns.
  • Leaves decompose more quickly in the compost pile if they are mowed to small pieces and moistened. The addition of a nitrogen fertilizer will also speed up the decomposition.

Calvin Finch is a retired Texas A&M horticulturist.