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Feb 3, 2011 04:10 PM

What's the earliest you'd dare plant tomatoes??

First...... we're in South Orange County, CA, about a mile and half from the ocean. It tends to be overcast a lot here, and the way our house is oriented provides direct sun to the planting area for only about 4 hours a day.

Our favorite nursery has just begun to bring in some very interesting heirloom tomato plants and is suggesting that people in this area might want to risk planting now in anticipation of an early Spring (apologies to most of the rest of the US). Doing so, if successful, would likely give us two complete cycles this year.

Anyone out there familiar enough with this area to comment? I only have room for 6 plants, so it's not a huge financial investment if it fails.

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  1. Tomatoes require nighttime temperatures between 55F and 65F leaning toward the warmer side of that for good growth. When your nighttime temps hit that range you should be good to go.

    4 Replies
    1. re: morwen

      Ironically I have 3 volunteers that have already come up in my winter greens raised beds. Night time temps have been in the mid 40's. Obviously this isn't ideal.

      1. re: meadandale

        As long as they don't get frosted they'll probably make it. They'll just be slow and sluggish for awhile. If you want to encourage them, cut the bottom out of plastic gallon milk jugs and place the jugs over them, lids off during the day and lids on at night. The jugs act like little greenhouses.

        1. re: morwen

          Due to critter problems my 3'x10' tomato garden is in pots and surrounded by a metal mesh barrier that is about 3' tall. I was thinking of wrapping a clear plastic painting drop cloth around them until things warm up. Depending on the year it can get into the low 40's here at night for the next couple of months. But if all this will do is keep them alive to mature at the same time as if I planted later............ I'm not sure it's worth it. The idea was to try to get in two full sets of plants this year.

          1. re: Midlife

            I've noticed that if I set my plants out too soon they have sluggish growth but they do catch up later on. Here when nights are in the 40's there's always a chance of a drop and a light frost and that's it for the tomatoes so I don't put them out until night time temps are in the mid 50's. However, I've been able to extend my tomatoes on the other end of the season into late November by using plastic on our hoops and that may work for you. We're in zone 6 in sw VA, so picking tomatoes in Nov without a hothouse is an accomplishment. Depending on your winter temps and your garden's micro-climate you may be able to prolong your harvest through the winter using plastic. Tomato plants can be quite long lived as long as their nutrient requirements are being met. You may have to help pollination along though if the bees and other pollinators are dormant.

    2. I have not grown in your region, I am so North East Coastal. But I can say share some things that I know about tomatoes. If your nursery brings in something you want, buy it, See if they will hold it for you, gives a few weeks extra time. If not, tomatoes root from the stem, so leggy plants, planted in the garden with 2 -6 inches of stem buried, root and make a very rigorous adult.
      Tent them. There is a garden cloth that works, I am sure your nursery will know it if not have it, Elsewise a simple newspaper tent works.

      1. I've not used these but a friend of mine swore by these Wall of Water thingies.

        1 Reply
        1. re: c oliver

          I garden in Zone 1 and use these successfully.

        2. I'd be more concerned about only 4 hours of sun than the temps right now...does the planting area get filtered sun, too? Or is it in shade for the rest of the day? I tried to grow tomatoes on my apartment balcony when I lived in Los Angeles, but our building just didn't get enough sun in the courtyard. The plants grew 6 ft tall and only gave me 1 tomato.

          1. OK............... so I bought six varieties and planted them on Sunday. They're in containers and the area is small, so I wrapped the chicken wire enclosure (critters, you know) with a clear plastic painters drop cloth. The nursery man said the problem with cold is not so much ground temp here as it is cold air circulating at night. Soil was equal parts potting mix, organic manure, perlite and sphagnum moss (per several online sites). We'll see how this goes.

            4 Replies
            1. re: Midlife

              I'm in Orange County, CA and I would love to know where you are getting tomato plants this early. None of the nurseries I go to have them yet and so I *thought* the only way to get early tomato plants was to start them by seed.

              I start mine in December and have my plants out in the garden by late January. I dig in some compost into the planting hole, put in the plant, cover them with a tomato cage draped in fine tulle (got on sale from a thrift store for $1), water, and that's it.

              1. re: choctastic

                Laguna Hills Nursery (Gary Matsuoka) has a booth at both the Great Park and Rancho Santa Margarita Farmers Markets ["FRIDAYS-Santa Margarita Farmers Market (Big Lots parking lot, corner of El Portal and Avenida de las Flores) 1pm to 6pm; SUNDAYS-The Great Park Farmers Market (Marine Way where the 5 Freeway crosses over Sand Canyon) 10am-2pm"]. He hopes to have a permanent facility again, at Great Park, later this year. He and his family have provided the best plants and advice in the Saddleback Valley area for 25+ years. Lately he's been sending e-mails about what he'll have at the markets.


                I can't recommend him highly enough.

                1. re: Midlife

                  Thank you so much for this info. I am going to pay a little visit on Friday.

                  I start varieties like Brandywine around now because they like cooler weather. I start varieties that like more heat later on. I love Orange County weather.

                  1. re: choctastic

                    The varieties he had last week were listed in his email as Black Cherry, Black Krim, Lemon Boy, Momotaro, San Francisco Fog, and Sungold. Be sure to speak with Gary directly.