Choosing tomato varieties for your backyard garden can be a chore, because there are so many tomato plant varieties to choose from.
And there are also many factors to consider in deciding which varieties will best serve your purpose.
Let’s look at some of the things you’ll want to consider in selecting the best tomato varieties for your garden.
Think about the aspects of your garden setting which may favor certain varietal characteristics over others.
Your geographic location...
How long is the growing season in your area? If you live at a more northerly latitude, you’ll probably want to choose tomato plant varieties that produce fruit quicker. And that can really make a difference, because we’re not talking about simply a few days variance between the faster and slower varieties.
The faster fruiting tomato varieties can produce fruit a full month faster than slower varieties.
So if you live far enough up north, choosing the right variety may make all the difference between getting to enjoy the fruits of your labor yourself, or providing Jack Frost with a treat!
Most seed catalogs make it easy to avoid this unfortunate scenario by including the recommended growing zones in their variety descriptions, as well as the time to maturity.
Not sure what zone you’re in? Just click here to find out.
Your allotted gardening space...
Got a huge backyard with lots of gardening space? Then this will be a factor you can eliminate when choosing a variety.
But if your space is limited, you’ll want to carefully consider the growth characteristics of the tomato varieties you’re considering. A sprawling indeterminate variety may not be a great choice for you.
It sure would be a shame to invest a lot of time and effort into nurturing a plant, only to find that it has outgrown it’s space before you’ve picked a single tomato.
Your local climate might also influence your choice of varieties. Is your growing season cool, cloudy and rainy? Or is it dry and stinky hot?
There are actually varieties that will tolerate heat better, or tolerate drought better, or tolerate wet feet (soggy soils) better.
If you don’t want to bother with growing your own transplants, you’ll be limited in the varieties that are available to you.
But don’t think that you’ll be limited to the relatively few varieties sold at your local nursery. Because there are a number of companies that will ship tomato plants to you. And some offer quite a large selection of varieties.
Of course, you can eliminate this constraint by starting seeds yourself to produce your own transplants. It’s really not very difficult!
Some varieties just produce more reliably than others. And some varieties really crank out the poundage compared to others. But, the best producing varieties may not necessarily be the ones that you prefer in terms of flavor or other criteria.
Is more better, or is better more? Only you can decide!
This is a criteria that really deserves some attention. Because there are a lot of diseases that target tomatoes. Fortunately, though, resistance to some of the nastiest diseases has been bred into many of the modern hybrid tomato varieties.
And to a limited degree, this is also a geographical issue, since some diseases are more prevalent in some areas than in others. It would be a good idea to contact your local extension office to find out which diseases you should be most concerned about in your area.
Two of the most serious diseases are verticillium and fusarium wilt. Fortunately, there are many varieties resistant to these diseases.
How can you know if a variety you’re considering is resistant to a particular disease?
It’s actually pretty simple.
Just look at the plant or seed label, or the catalog description. After the variety name, you’ll see a set of letters. These letters indicate the diseases to which the variety is resistant. And you can find the key for these letter codes in any seed catalog. The codes are universal, so it won’t matter what company produced the seeds or plants.
And often they’ll just list the diseases, so you don’t even have to bother with the codes.
So as an example, let’s consider a hybrid variety that happens to be a classic favorite: Better Boy. This variety is resistant to verticillium wilt (V), fusarium wilt (F), root-knot nematodes (N), tobacco mosaic virus (T) and alternaria (A).
Some nasties that you simply won’t have to worry about if you’re growing Better Boy! (and many other hybrid varieties).
This factor in choosing a tomato variety may be at once the easiest AND most difficult.
It’s easy because you know the type of tomato flavor you most crave. Some folks like their tomatoes with a tangy, tart bite. Others prefer their tomatoes mellow and sweet, or somewhere in between. What’s your pleasure?
So if you know what you like, what makes this part of the variety choosing process difficult?
Because whatever your favored flavor, there are likely hundreds of varieties that will fill the bill. It’s great to have a lot of varieties to choose from, but having a LOT of varieties to choose from can also be overwhelming!
And be aware that if you plan to process your tomatoes (canning, making paste or sauce, etc.) varieties that are best for processing tend often to NOT be the best varieties for eating fresh.
This is getting complicated, isn’t it!?!
Each variety-choosing criteria that we’ve discussed here adds a layer of complexity to the process of choosing a tomato variety.
And if you’re a novice backyard tomato gardener, you might be wondering whether tomato growing really has to be so complicated! You might be thinking: “Do I really have to spend countless hours poring over seed catalogs before I even put a spade to dirt?”
And the answer, of course, is NO.
When planting time comes, you can simply visit a reputable nursing center in your area, and ask their advice. They’ll likely recommend a variety or two or three that they offer for sale as transplants. Their recommendations will probably be well suited to your area, and be resistant to the most important diseases.
You can take those plants home, pop them in your garden, and end up with a wonderful backyard tomato garden.
Will you be producing the absolute BEST possible tomatoes for your taste and circumstances?
But I bet they’ll be really good!
Once you’ve gained some experience, though, you might find that you enjoy tinkering with the process each year. Trying some new (to you) tomato plant varieties, and discarding some old. You might decide that fine-tuning the results of your tomato garden by fine-tuning your choice of varieties is part of the fun.
In fact, you might even come to enjoy spending hour upon hour poring through seed catalogs.
Because for many of us, that’s an activity that serves as a balm against the winter chill. Thumbing through the catalogs, studying all the different varieties, dreaming of the coming growing season, and all of the possibilities.
The endless possibilities…