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How to Select the Best Tomatoes for Your Garden and Table

Sliced, sauced or cooked in your favorite recipe, tomatoes are a favorite and versatile vegetable. What’s more, they taste best when grown and harvested from your own garden or container. Ensure the most delectable flavor and most satisfying results by selecting the most disease-resistant varieties and growing your tomatoes in full sun and moist, well-drained soil.

Select plants with the growth habit that best compliments your garden space and gardening style. Determinate tomatoes are perfect for small-space gardens and containers as they grow to a certain height, stop growing, and produce their fruit over a relatively short time frame. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow throughout the season, producing flowers and fruit until frost kills the plant or you prune off the growing tip found at the end of the main stems. Stake or tower the plants to save space, reduce disease and insect problems, and make harvesting more convenient.

Further, narrow down your selection and grow varieties suited to the intended use. Plant tags often provide recommendations, or save time and do a bit of research before visiting the garden center. The Bonnie Plant Tomato Chooser helps you select the best tomato for your growing conditions and the intended use.

Juicy, bite-sized tomatoes are perfect for salads, relish trays and snacking. Tumbling Tom Red and Tumbling Tom Yellow cherry tomatoes are compact, cascading plants that create an attractive edible display in tall containers, hanging baskets, or window boxes.

Grow the explosively sweet Sun Gold and Sun Sugar cherry tomatoes. They’re the candy of the garden and will get even your most reluctant family members, young and old, to eat their tomatoes. Stake or cage these tall plants and, if space is limited, grow them in a 24-inch-diameter pot.

Paste and sauce tomatoes have meatier fruit, making them perfect for sauces, soups, and preserving. The egg-shaped Roma is a traditional favorite with thick walls and few seeds. Use them during the growing season for sauces, chop and add them to an omelet, or can and freeze them for future use.

Expand your options with San Marzano heirloom paste tomato. Popular with gourmet and home chefs, the sweet, complex flavor makes a fabulous sauce. It’s also recommended to chop this versatile tomato and add to salads or atop your favorite sandwich.

Remember to grow a few slicing tomatoes. Most gardeners look for large, juicy tomatoes to enjoy on their sandwiches, hors d’oeuvres and salads. Solar Flare and Creole are heat-tolerant and keep producing despite high summer temperatures. Start picking tomatoes as soon as 65 days after planting by growing short-season varieties like Early Girl and New Girl tomatoes.

An All-America Selections winner, Celebrity, has robust disease resistance and is an excellent all-around tomato. Grow this determinate fruit in a cage, or stake the plant to save space.

Heirloom varieties have been grown for more than 50 years and have maintained their original traits and popularity. Cherokee Purple’s rich flavor rates high in taste tests. The dusky pink fruit with deep red interior looks as beautiful as it tastes. Add some fun and sweet flavor with Mr. Stripey; the irregular striping of the red and yellow beefsteak-type fruit make this a popular choice.

So, gather your favorite recipes and create a list of both longtime favorites and new tomato varieties to include in this year’s garden!

Gardening expert Melinda Myers has more than 30 years of horticulture experience and has written over 20 gardening books. She hosts DVDs, TV & radio segments and is the contributing editor for Birds & Blooms magazine. Her website is www.melindamyers.

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