I get asked about tomato growing here a lot, so I finally decided to put my thoughts all in one place.
For people just starting out gardening, I usually recommend a topsy-turvy–one of those hanging tomato plant contraptions. They are much easier to take care of because you don’t have to lean over or dig in the soil. You need a sunny place to hang it–for winter hanging go for at least 6 hours of sun if you can get it; 4 will do. Best case scenario, you have a beam in the garage where you can move it on freezing nights. You can hang a hook from a strong tree branch if it sticks out into the sun. In the winter, it doesn’t matter if you’re getting morning or afternoon sun. If you do it for summertime, you want morning sun only.
The beams have to be able to hold about 40 pounds because that’s what some of them can weigh when filled with dirt, water and the plant as it gets large. The plants are easy to spray for bugs because you can do it all standing up. Watering is easy as well; they need to be watered daily in the summer for certain. You can probably get away with every other day in the winter, but it depends on the temperatures. Not hard to check it! If you have any kind of trellis beams, you can actually run a small drip hose to the plant and use an auto timer to water.
I’d recommend a Juliet (tomato name) if you can find one. They are heat hardy and do pretty well in the cooler temps as well. Great producers once they get going. They are a grape tomato, but because winter time is a slower growing season, they are totally the way to go. If you have room for two, I’d go with a Celebrity as the second kind. It is a medium sized tomato that handles the heat and bugs of Texas fairly well. Good, good flavor. Very little cracking and they ripen nice and evenly. If you want to try just one, go with the Juliet, but it may depend on what you can find!
For dirt, you can get any good potting soil. I mix my own, but we already know that I’m the way overboard gardening type.
For bugs, I recommend Neem oil, soap and cinnamon oil. OR for ease of taking care of things, you can get just insecticidal soap from any gardening place. These are mostly “on contact” killers, especially the soap.
Neem also keeps bugs from reproducing, which is why I use it, but it is expensive premixed. Shoot, it’s expensive not premixed, but all of the bug killers are. All of the above mentioned bug killers are completely organic. If your dog accidentally rolled in the entire bottle and licked it off, it wouldn’t hurt him. The soap aspect might give him some issues, but on the bright side the neem would kill any fleas he had. 🙂
If you don’t happen to have insecticidal soap around when you need it, you can mix your own hand soap with water and spray the plants. It’s an easy cheap way to kill most bugs. Soap doesn’t work well on beetles, but they don’t bother tomato plants very often. I spray every few days in the summer time, but in the winter, you won’t have to spray anything very often. In Texas, it’s actually easier to grow things in the winter. I recommend trying your first tomato plants in the winter–just make sure you have a place to carry them or take the plants for the freezing nights!
If you have questions, just ask. If you want the pots on the ground, nothing much is different. You may have to stake the Juliet as it is a vine plant and when it gets going, it GOES!