Helen Chesnut's Garden Notes: Some tomatoes fare better in hot weather

Dear Helen: I usually have good luck with tomatoes, but this year the leaves have shrivelled and curled into tight inward rolls. What might have cause this?

B.F.

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Some tomato varieties are more prone to leaf rolling than others, especially in hot, dry conditions. The leaf rolling can be a means of reducing a plant’s exposure to the sun.

If you are growing more than one variety, take note of the ones that have come through our challenging late spring and early summer growing conditions in the best shape and that carry on to produce a satisfactory yield of tomatoes. Grow these again next year, and perhaps add one or two new varieties to try out.

A fertile, humus-rich soil kept thoroughly and consistently moist is a basic first step toward stress-resistant tomato plants. Mulching with a high quality compost as the soil warms in late spring or early summer is helpful too, as is a soil-cooling, sunlight-deflecting layer of straw laid loosely over the mulched root area.

Dear Helen: My “gardening” is restricted to containers on a patio. The small “patio” sized tomato plants I’ve grown so far have produced plenty of little fruits with very little flavour. If you grow tomatoes in pots, can you recommend any tasty ones? I am able to grow the plants from seed.

T.B.

The most flavourful of all the container tomatoes I’ve grown is Siderno, a 45-cm plant I support with a tomato cage inserted into a pot. Siderno was developed in Germany for growing in containers and in urban gardens with limited space.

It is the earliest of all the tomatoes I grow to produce ripe fruits. William Dam Seeds, the only source I know of for Siderno, describes it as their best-tasting patio tomato. I’ve grown Siderno every year since it first became available, and continue to be impressed with its fine flavour.

The other patio tomato I’ve found outstanding is Little Napoli, from W.H. Perron, the only current seed source I know of. Little Napoli is a Roma tomato. The fruits are beautifully shaped ovals. I’ve picked enough tomatoes from two pot-grown plants at one time to make a sizeable batch of sauce.

Tomatoes in containers need enough regular water to keep the soil consistently and evenly moistened. A soil kept wet can diminish flavour intensity, as can over-fertilizing.

Dear Helen: I often look for plant information online, and find it quite a maze, often full of dodgy opinions. In your own searches, have you found a way to quickly determine which sites will yield reliably accurate information?

I.G.

I avoid sites that offer only opinions among gardeners and look for educational institutions located in our general region and share a similar climate. They are usually indicated by an “edu” in their website descriptions.

Both Oregon State University (OSU) and Washington State University (WSU) have extension services that share excellent information on various gardening issues. The information includes reports of in-depth trials they have conducted.

Look for OSU, WSU, “edu” and “extension” in the site choices that come up when you type a question into a search engine.

Dear Helen: I noticed in a spring column that you recommend doing some apple tree pruning in summer. Is this a good time, and can pruning in hot weather damage a tree?

C.D.

I aim to prune twice in summer, to shorten new growth — once in late June or early in July, after the trees have shed excess fruit in the “June drop,” and again in the latter part of July. I avoid pruning in wet weather and in high temperatures like the ones we experienced during the heat wave at the end of June.

Most people do all or most of their apple tree pruning in the dormant season, in late winter, before the trees’ growth buds begin to swell prior to opening. Dormant season pruning, especially if it is fairly severe, stimulates an abundance of new growth, including the straight-up growth called water sprouts. Summer pruning helps to keep the trees compact. When there is a lot of pruning to be done, it can be divided between dormant and summer.

Other advantages to summer pruning: It helps to protect trees from disease because pruning wounds heal quickly in warm, dry conditions. Pruning in early and mid-summer removes aphids that set up housekeeping in the succulent new tip growth.

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