How to Choose the Most Disease Resistant Tomatoes for Your Garden
“Plant disease resistant tomatoes.” OK, you get that – you hear and read it everywhere. But how do you know which tomato varieties are most disease resistant (particularly for your area) so you can grow them?
Great question. There’s not a universal answer. But there’s a way you can find out.
Here’s the dirt: a type of tomato that flourishes for you in your garden maybe a bust for your cousin two states away.
That’s because different climates (even those with slight variations in temperature, rainfall, and air quality) and different soils produce different growing patterns from the same tomato variety.
Take these steps to find out which tomatoes to plant – the most disease resistant tomatoes for your area that will thrive best where you live.
Step 1. Understand your region’s vulnerabilities
The first step is to find out which tomato diseases are most common in your area. Ask local nursery owners, post a question on a local master gardener forum, or call your extension office to learn which tomato diseases are most often documented by local gardeners.
While you’re at it, you can also ask them which varieties stay the healthiest in local gardens. But be forewarned: local garden center employees may not know which tomato varieties are resistant to most prevalent local diseases, even though they often hear from customers about the problems faced most often in local gardens. Don’t let that discourage you. Extension workers will have a better idea about what varieties you should choose.
Plus, your main goal is to find out what problems you’re most likely to face. That information will equip you to choose what variety to grow from the thousands which are available. For instance, humid areas in the southeast U.S. are a breeding ground for early blight and Septoria leaf spot – a fact that nursery workers are likely to know, even if they don’t know which tomato varieties are resistant to those diseases. When you know what diseases you should intentionally avoid, you can choose varieties to do so.
Step 2. Understand disease resistant codes
When a cultivar has been developed that is tested and confirmed to be resistant to a particular disease, it is given a designated letter (after its variety name) donating that disease. Multiple letters after a tomato variety name indicate that that type of tomato is resistant to more disease (all those indicated by the letters listed.) So the codes are a helpful tools in your hunt for disease resistant tomatoes for your garden.
Tomato variety Abe Lincoln Improved is labeled with letters VFNASt. Following the tomato disease resistance code listed here, those letters indicate that it is been bred to be resistant to verticillium wilt, fursarium wilt, nematodes, Alternaria, and Stemphylium (gray leaf spot).
Tomato disease resistance codes
V Verticillium Wilt
F Fusarium Wilt
FF Fusarium, races 1 and 2
FFF Fusarium, races 1, 2, and 3
T Tobacco Mosaic Virus
St Stemphylium (Gray Leaf Spot)
TSWV Tomato Spotted Wilt Virus
Keep in mind that a tomato’s resistance label is simply an indicator. How the variety performs will depend on several different factors, including its environment, rainfall, soil content, and care.
Step 3: Understand and Use a Tomato Disease Resistance Table
Once you know what tomato diseases are especially prevalent in your area and how those diseases are notated, you’re ready to find out which tomato varieties are going to work for you. Look in an information bank which lists tomato diseases and corresponding tomato varieties that are resistant to those diseases. Cornell University’s Vegetable MD Online offers one of the most comprehensive Tomato Disease Resistance tables out there. It lists varieties, their disease-resistance (along with resistance to physiological conditions like blossom end rot, cracking, and splitting), vendors that provide seeds for the variety, and the variety’s availability in organic and non-treated seed.
For instance, if yellow leaf curl virus is a common problem for tomatoes in your area, you can refer to the chart, make a list of varieties which demonstrate a resistance to that disease, and choose varieties that fit your parameters.
Choosing a tomato variety to grow is not a one-size-fits-all matter. Nor is there the “perfect” tomato that meets the needs of every gardener. Which varieties you choose depends on your soil, your weather, your ability to monitor your plants, and the conditions where you live. Further, some gardeners so strongly prefer the flavor or texture of a particular variety that they are willing to risk disease for the chance to grow, harvest, and enjoy their favorite delicious tomatoes.
Use tools to figure out just the right disease resistant tomatoes for you.
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