I always thought tomato growers in the south had it easy: they don’t have to contend with frost,cool summers, or short seasons. But southern gardeners have issues of their own to deal with.
Tomatoes are known as a heat-loving tropical plant, but what happens if your southern summers are too hot? What can you do if your tomatoes are too humid and riddled with disease, or maybe your Nevada garden is parched and dry? Don’t give up, because with a tomato variety that is tolerant of heat, and resistant to diseases or drought, you can have a successful growing season and a bountiful harvest.
Keep reading for tips to growing tomatoes in hot climates, and our top 14 varieties for southern gardens.
Tomatoes In The South
Most southern gardens in the United States fall in zones 7 through 10 (here is a great description of what the USDA zones mean). Of course, the entire country is divided into small pockets of varying microclimates.
No matter where you garden, don’t fight the weather because you simply won’t win. The key is to understand how your tomatoes behave in your weather and choose the right variety.
Tomatoes are a tropical perennial that that like heat, sun, and moisture which is what southern gardens are known for. However, too much of these can be very bad for tomatoes.
Temperature: The ideal temperatures for growing tomatoes is between 21°C and 27°C (70-80°F) in the day and 15°C to 21°C (60-70°F) at night. As the daytime temperature climbs over 30°C (85°F) and the night exceeds 21°C (70°F), it can interfere with pollination and lead to flower drop.
When temperatures are over 35°C (95°F), maturing fruit will stop producing red pigments and the ripening process will stop.
Sun: Tomatoes require full sun, but this only means they need 6 to 8 hours each day. Too little and the plants won’t thrive, but too much and there can be problems especially when this is paired with heat. When the blistering sun falls on ripening fruits, it can heat up the tomatoes enough to inhibit ripening. Not to mention the fact that it will burn or dry out your plants.
Moisture: Warm southern gardens are either characterized as excessively dry, or humid. They can all be hot but they can have drastically different amounts of rainfall each year. (Here is a good website showing the average annual precipitation for the United States). Humid and dry climates each come with their own challenges
Tomatoes need a regular supply of water to grow well. Besides causing your plants to dry out, lack of water can lead to many problems such as flower drop or blossom end rot.
On the other end of the spectrum, excessive humidity can be problematic. Tomatoes are susceptible to many diseases and fungi, and many of these pathogens will thrive in the warm, humid climates of the south.
Tips For Choosing A Southern Tomato Variety
Sow the seeds 5mm to 6mm (¼ inch) indoors about 6 weeks before you want to plant them into the garden. Germinate the seeds at the soil temperate between 25-35°C (68-95°F), and they should germinate within one to two weeks.
After hardening them off, transplant the seedlings into the garden when the air temperature is at least 10°C (50°F) and there is no danger of frost.
Space plants between 60cm to 90cm (2-3 feet) apart in 1.5m (60 inch) rows. Plant tomatoes in fertile, well drained soil and keep them watered regularly.
Check out this complete guide forhow to grow tomatoes, but a good tomato harvest starts with the right tomato. Here are some special considerations for choosing the right tomatoes in a southern climate:
See What Your Neighbours Are Growing: Start by talking to another grower in your area or a local garden centre to see what varieties grow best in your climate.
Grow Several Varieties: Don’t be limited to a single variety. Try growing an early season variety plus a main crop tomato to avoid bad weather that can strike unexpectedly.
Grow Determinate And Indeterminate: There are advantages to both determinate and indeterminate varieties:
Hybrid, Open Pollinated, Or Heirloom: Depending on what qualities your are looking for in a variety, you might want an heirloom, open pollinated, or hybrid variety.
NOTE: Hybrid is not the same as genetically modified (GMO). Hybrids are the cross of two tomatoes varieties, where GMOs are unnatural mutations created in a lab.
Choose Disease Resistance: Diseases can strike tomatoes in every garden. They are particularly active in hot, humid areas but continuous watering can create a moist environment where fungi and viruses thrive even in dry conditions. When you are choosing a tomato variety from a seed company, they will often list several letters, which correspond to the diseases they are resistant to, such as:
Choose Heat Resistance: Even though tomatoes need sufficient heat to grow, many varieties will quickly wither when the temperature gets too hot. Many varieties, particularly newer hybrids, are particularly adapted to withstand hot summers and are ideally suited for growing in the south.
Protect From Insects: There are many insects who like eating tomatoes just as much as we do. Heat stressed plants are particularly susceptible to bug infestations, which can be a real problem in the south. Keep your plants well hydrated, use floating row covers, and choose a variety that is well suited for southern gardens.
Starting From Seed Start Seeds At Right Time: When growing tomatoes from seeds, it is important to start them 6 to 8 weeks before you to transplant. In northern climates, starting indoors is essential to get tomatoes out early enough so they can grow before frost but it is just as important in southern gardens. Starting tomatoes early enough means your tomatoes can be in the garden in early spring so you can really make the most of the long growing season.
If your summers are too hot, consider starting your tomatoes in winter and set them out in February of early spring.
Provide Shade: As the sun beats down on your southern garden, putting up some shade might be the best way to beat the heat. Try planting your tomatoes in a location with morning sun and dappled part shade for the rest of the day.
If natural shade isn’t an option, try putting up an artificial source. A 50% shade cloth will reduce the sun by half and lower the temperature by 25%.
If you have just a few plants, putting up an umbrella might be all you need.
Mulch: While tomatoes will need regular watering in hot weather, mulching is even more important. Not only will an organic mulch conserve moisture and slow evaporation, but it will also insulate the soil and keep it from getting too hot.
Water The Soil: Consistent, deep watering is necessary usually every day, and sometimes twice a day when its really hot out. Make sure the water goes right into the soil where it is can be used by the roots. Splashing water on the foliage can encourage disease and can cause the leaves to burn.
Avoid using overhead sprinklers as this throws water all over the plant, and most of the moisture is lost. Drop irrigation is a great way to water your tomatoes.
14 Great Best Types Of Tomatoes To Grow In The Southern Gardens
Each tomato variety has its own unique characteristics regarding heat tolerance, disease resistance, drought endurance, and flavour, so choose the variety that is best suited for your particular area and growing conditions.
Here are some of the best tomato varieties that will thrive in southern gardens.
1. Sweet 100
Sweet 100 is one of the best tomato varieties to grow in any climate. It is extremely reliable, and produces hundreds of super sweet bright red cherry tomatoes and long trusses. Some branches will produce up to a hundred fruits at one time! Even so, Sweet 100 is considered by many to be the easiest tomato to grow
Not only is it resistant to two common diseases in the south, this hybrid also grows very well in hot weather, and withstands humid and dry conditions. Just make sure to provide plenty of support with a sturdy trellis as the plants will grow large. It is also a good idea to make sure the plants have lots of space, with about 1m (3 feet) between each vine.
TIP: Most cherry tomato varieties are indeterminate and are ideal for hot southern climates as they are resistant to heat and humidity-related problems.
2. Sweet Million
If you are worried about disease, then upgrade from the Sweet 100 and grow the sweet million. The Sweet Million hybrid has all the benefits of its numerically inferior cousin, but Sweet Million is very disease resistant. Not only that, cracking is not so much of a problem with this variety as it can be with many other cherries.
They also produce well in the heat, and are fairly tolerant of either humidity or dryness. Producing hundreds of bright red tomatoes on large vines, Sweet Million are another excellent choice for southern gardens.
3. Sun Gold
cherry sweet. Disease resist
If you love cherry tomatoes, but want to add a little colour to your southern garden, then grow this orange cherry tomato. Unlike many orange/yellow tomatoes that have a bit of a bite to them, Sun Gold tomatoes are very sweet and the 3m (10 feet) tall vines are very prolific. Though if your lucky, your Sun Gold could reach the record-breaking 19.8m (65 feet) tall vine!
The trusses bear about a dozen fruits each, and the tomatoes themselves are about 2cm (1inch) and weigh about 15g (1/2 oz) each.
Sun Gold are easy to grow no matter what your climate is;hot, cold, dry, or humid, Sun Gold tomatoes can handle it all.
As its name implies, this slicer hybrid defies the major tomatoes diseases, so you will have a successful crop in no matter what. It was first developed to resist the devastating late blight, but has since been developed to be even more widely resistant. If you live in hot, humid southern states, then this is a great tomato to choose, and they are widely adaptable to many growing conditions.
Thankfully, flavour was not sacrificed when this tomato was developed. The fruits are deep red medium sized (6 to 8 oz) globes with a nice texture, smooth firm insides, and really excellent flavour. The plants are also very heavy bearing so you can be assured of a large crop.
Defiant tomatoes were also bred for early maturation which is another reason to include them in a southern garden. They can be planted early to mature before the heat gets too intense, or they can be grown in late fall to mature before winter.
5. San Marzano Tall
Though it has low resistance to many soil borne diseases, you aren’t as likely to run into issues with this vigorous heirloom. Originating from Italy, this is possibly the best roma tomato to grow in Texas, and other hot dry states.
The fruits are about 4 to 6 oz with a bright red classic roma shape, and they are often mistaken for bell peppers. They have a low water content, so they are great for storing, tomato paste, and sauces. The vines reach up to 2m (6 feet) and produce copious clusters of fruits.
Here is detailed guide on growing San Marzano tomatoes in your home garden.
This is one of the most popular heirloom tomatoes on the market. These incredible beefsteak can weigh up to 454g (1lb), each and a single vine can bear more than 20 of these monsters.
The fruits have a soft creamy flesh and exceptional flavour. They come in a range from pink to red or orange, and though they ripen later in the year, they are well worth the extra effort.
The long vines will grow up to 3m (10 feet), and are most distinctive with their potato-like leaves. The plants grow very well in hot climates and prefer up to 10 hours of sun each day. Make sure to keep them well watered and mulching is essential.
Here is a great article that covers everything you need to know about growing Brandywine tomatoes.
7. Early Girl
In the south, these tomatoes are recommended for Georgia and Mississippi, but will grow almost everywhere. They are popular in northern gardens due to their fast maturation, but this is also a benefit in the warm south: they will mature quickly and be ready to harvest before late blight becomes a problem. They are also very resistant to other diseases.
Another benefit in both the north and south is that hardy to weather extremes. As a native of France, they are naturally resistant to cold, but they are also very tolerant to heat. Early Girl are an extremely easy variety to grow, and they are very popular in the south.
There are vining and bush varieties available of Early Girl. Bush varieties will grow slightly larger tomatoes, but will take a few extra days to mature. On average, the tomatoes weigh in at about 150g (5oz), and have a nice bright red colour with exceptional flavour.
8. Parks Whopper Improved
This tomato has excellent diseases resistance, no matter what problems you are facing makingParks Whopper Improved ideal for humid conditions in the south. Even if you live in dry climates, these large tomatoes will grow very well with sufficient watering.
These prodigious vines will often bear 35kg (80 lbs) per plant of large, juicy tomatoes with an even better flavour than its predecessors. They will start producing quickly after transplant and will produce right up until the season ends.
9. Mountain Merit
This tomato grows well in almost all temperate climate regions and Mountain Magic tomatoes do very well in southern gardens. Its disease resistant package makes it ideal for humid climates where these issues run rampant.
The delicious red tomatoes are large (8 to 10oz) with a good flavour and meaty texture. The plants are short and stocky and don’t usually need excessive support, though a cage might be nice. They will produce a large crop all at once, making them ideal for preserving, but they are excellent for eating fresh in salads on sandwiches.
Mountain Merit are widely available from most seed companies. Start them indoors 6 to 8 weeks prior to transplanting, so you can be assured of a good harvest before the season ends.
There are many other “mountain” varieties available, such as Mountain Magic, or Mountain Majesty, each with their own unique traits but they all work well in the south.
10. Cherokee Purple
Even though these heirloom tomatoes have little disease resistance, they are worth growing to add some unique colour to your southern garden. They have been around since the 1890s for a good reason with beautiful purplish colour, with sweet delicious flavour. Not only that, the fruits are very large and weigh in at 12oz.
It is very heat tolerant, and will actually grow best between 24C and 35C (75-95F), making it perfect for the hot south. As the name implies it was cultivated by the self-same indigenous tribe and has gain international recognition.
It is available from many seed companies. Learn more about growing Cherokee Purple tomatoes here.
11. Homestead 24
This variety of tomato was developed especially for the hot humid conditions of the south eastern United States, and are particularly in Florida. Even so, they are popular with growers all across the southern US.
The semi-determinate plants will reach about 2m (6 feet) high and are quite dense and bushy so will benefit from some staking. First coming out in the 1950s, Homestead 24 produce 8oz fruits that are firm and meaty with a good flavour.
The most prominent feature of Homestead 24 is that they will set fruit in hot weather so you don’t have to worry about blossom or fruit drop in the warm south.
These tomatoes are bred for the heat that scorches the south while resisting the diseases that wreck havoc there. Heatmaster will grow very well in hot and humid climates.Their greatest advantage for southern gardeners is this plants ability to pollinate in hot weather so you will have an excellent harvest at the end of the season. They are particularly suited as a fall crop in warm climates.
They are great salad tomatoes, 7oz in size and a good texture and flavour.
13. Big Beef
These tomatoes are particularly popular in Georgia and Mississippi, but they are grown all across the south. Big Beef are known to produce well in cold climates, but they also tolerate quite a bit of heat.
As the name implies, the tomatoes average 10 to 12 oz, and they are one of the earliest ripening amongst the large tomato varieties. Their good looks are only surpassed by their excellent taste and they make excellent slicers for fresh eating.
To keep up with the big yield, make sure to water Big Beef regularly throughout the summer, especially when the weather stays hot. Mulch is also a must!
Check out here for more tips on growing Big Beef tomatoes.
14. Arkansas Traveler
For over 100 years, Arkansas Traveler have been helping southern gardeners grow a great tasting tomato crop. They will withstand extreme heat, humidity, and are very disease resistant to a number of problems. They will even withstand drought conditions so you can grow them no matter where you live.
The 2m (6ft) vines produce lots of medium sized 6oz tomatoes that are slightly pink. They have a great flavour and excellent texture, and they will also resist cracking.
If you are worried about what weather the south will throw at you, the Arkansas Traveller will handle it all and give you a great harvest.
A Few Other Varieties
Above are some of the most popular tomatoes to grow in the south. Here are a few other notable mentions that you might also want to try:
Every climate has its challenges, and the first step to choose a variety that can endure Mother Nature’s oddities. If your garden hot most of the year, then choose a tomato that can withstand it.
If your particular area is humid where diseases are common, then make sure tomatoes won’t succumb to the problem. If dry arid weather is your mainstay, then your tomatoes must be able to last out a drought.
Thankfully, there is a tomato for every garden that also suits the palette of every gardener. With these fourteen awesome varieties to choose from, I know you will not only start off strong but finish with a plentiful and delicious harvest.
Margie and Arkansas native has an extensive background in gardening and landscaping. For the last 40 years, Margie has called the Colorado Rocky Mountains her home. Here she and her husband of 36 years raised three kids and owned a successful landscaping company. Margie has a CSU Master Gardener certification. She specialized in garden design & installation, perennial gardens, turf grasses & weeds, flower containers, and the overall maintenance of allHOA, commercial and residential accounts. She and her husband now reside in Denver and are excited about the new experiences’ city life holds.