Choosing the Right Tomato for YOU!

Mar 31, 2016

Are you looking for new tomato varieties to grow this year? There are several factors to consider in making your choice.

What is the microclimate in your garden? Do you live in one of the cooler areas of Napa Valley, such as American Canyon or Carneros? How much sun does your garden get? Do you want to grow tomatoes for cooking and preserving, or do you primarily want tomatoes to eat fresh? Is your garden small, with room for only one or two tomato plants?

Consider also whether you want to grow hybrid or heirloom tomatoes. Many hybrids have been bred for better yield or disease resistance. Check the nursery label for the letters V, F, N, T or A. If present, these symbols indicate that a variety is resistant to verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt, nematodes, tobacco mosaic virus or alternaria stem canker.

Heirloom and open-pollinated tomatoes are another option. These tomatoes offer a wide spectrum of tastes, colors, textures and shapes and tend to be more expensive at the grocery store. Some heirlooms are less productive than hybrids and more susceptible to disease, but many gardeners appreciate their unusual characteristics and the fact that their seeds can be saved and replanted the following year. In contrast, hybrid seeds will not produce tomato plants with the same characteristics as the mother plant.

If your climate is cool, try early-bearing varieties such as ‘Bloody Butcher', ‘Early Girl', ‘Crimson Carmello' and ‘Stupice'. These early tomatoes make good garden companions for the larger varieties, which produce fruit later. ‘Bloody Butcher' produces three- to four-inch fruits with rich flavor and a deep red color. ‘Crimson Carmello' is a tasty, extremely productive and disease-resistant hybrid from France. ‘Stupice', a Czech heirloom, is a cold-tolerant tomato rated highly for flavor.

Cherry tomatoes also tend to ripen early. They are ideal for salads and snacking, and children love them. Some more unusual open-pollinated varieties include ‘Black Cherry', ‘Blush', ‘Isis Candy' and ‘Blue Berries'. ‘Black Cherry' has the rich complex flavor that makes black tomatoes so popular. ‘Blush', is an elongated, plump cherry, is large enough to slice but small enough to eat out of hand. Last year it won the Napa County Master Gardeners' taste test for cherry tomatoes. ‘Isis Candy' is a productive bi-color cherry tomato with a spectacular yellow-gold cat's-eye starburst on the blossom end. It has a rich, fruity taste but is not sugary sweet. ‘Blue Berries' produces clusters of one- to two-ounce dark-skinned tomatoes that are high in antioxidants.

If you're a fan of large, beefy red tomatoes, consider heirlooms such as ‘Beefsteak', ‘Mortgage Lifter' and ‘Boxcar Willie'. ‘Genuwine', a new hybrid, is a cross between ‘Brandywine' and ‘Costoluto Genovese'. It is higher yielding and more productive than either parent, and with an estimated 70 days to maturity, it should produce earlier than most other beefsteaks.

Are you looking for a paste tomato for sauces and preserving? Some choice varieties include ‘Roma', ‘San Marzano', ‘Opalka' and ‘Big Mama'. The first three are heirlooms. ‘Roma' is the earliest producer and the best suited for container growing. ‘Big Mama' is a prolific hybrid.

Maybe you would like to grow tomatoes in a variety of colors. Sliced on a platter, they make a beautiful presentation. ‘Cherokee Purple' is an old favorite among the larger black tomatoes. ‘Paul Robeson' is another heirloom black type with medium-sized fruit. It won the Napa County Master Gardeners' taste test last year for standard-sized tomatoes.

One of my new dark favorites is ‘Chocolate Stripes'. This delicious, open-pollinated tomato has a mahogany skin with distinctive olive-green striping. The fruit can reach six inches in diameter.  

Beyond black tomatoes, ‘Marvel Stripe' produces large yellow-orange fruits streaked with ruby red. Weighing up to two pounds, these tomatoes have a sweet, fruity taste.

Whichever varieties you choose, wait to plant until the danger of frost is past and the soil is sufficiently warm. Soil temperatures below 57ºF delay growth and leave the plants more susceptible to insect damage and disease.

Workshops: Napa County Master Gardeners will hold a workshop on “Growing Tomatoes” on Sunday, April 10, from 2 p.m. to 4 p.m., at the Yountville Community Center, 6516 Washington Street, Yountville. The workshop will focus on techniques for a successful harvest, including soil temperature requirements; tomato types; care and fertilizing; support choices; and integrated pest management. Register with the Parks and Recreation Department at

707-944-8712 or on its web site.


The “Growing Tomatoes” workshop will repeat on Saturday, April 16, from 9:30 a.m. to 11:30 a.m., at the University of California Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Napa. On-line registration (credit card only); Mail-in/Walk-in registration (cash or check only).


Master Gardeners are volunteers who help the University of California reach the gardening public with home gardening information. U. C. Master Gardeners of Napa County are available to answer gardening questions in person or by phone, Monday, Wednesday and Friday, 9 a.m. to Noon, at the U. C. Cooperative Extension office, 1710 Soscol Avenue, Suite 4, Napa, 707-253-4143, or from outside City of Napa toll-free at 877-279-3065. Or e-mail your garden questions by following the guidelines on our web site. Click on Napa, then on Have Garden Questions? Find us on Facebook under UC Master Gardeners of Napa County.