Tomato Varieties: Getting the Most Out of Your Choice

The rain has subsided for a while, sunshine is in the forecast and the soil is warming up! Know what varieties do best in the South!








By Wes Ellard

AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala.—There are nearly 10,000 named varieties of tomato. April is here, and Alabamians will be planting America’s favorite garden food in droves. Deciding which tomato to use is entirely up to the gardener.

Selecting Varieties

Gardeners should always consider which foods they like the most when selecting seeds. Some families have heirloom tomato seeds passed down from generation to generation. Others enjoy trying new tomato varieties every year. Some only enjoy tomatoes fresh during the growing season, while others can and save some for the future. When it comes to their uses, according to Chip East, an Alabama Cooperative Extension System horticulture regional agent, some people prefer using traditional slicing tomatoes for canning, and vice versa.

Slicing Tomatoes

Tomatoes usually used for slicing tend to be 8 to 12 ounces. There are many varieties that fit this bill. However, they all taste a bit different. “Better Boy”, “Celebrity”, “Crista”, “Big Beef” and “Mountain Majesty” are all common slicing tomato varieties.

“It is impossible to say which is best,” East said. “Some people will only plant one variety their entire life and claim that it’s the best despite never trying another.”

Paste Tomatoes

Traditional paste or canning tomato varieties are smaller in size, at about 4 or 5 ounces. These tomatoes–such as Roma, Plum and Mariana–tend to be lower in water content than larger slicing tomatoes are. The higher meat-to-water ratio makes these tomatoes great for sauces and canning.

Salad Tomatoes

The smallest tomato varieties are often used in salads. These are grape and cherry types. Both are near 1 ounce and are bite-sized. As their names suggest, they are generally shaped like grapes or cherries. They are generally sweet and have an even higher meat-to-water ratio. Common cherry tomato varieties are “Mountain Belle”, “New Pearl” and “Sun Gold”. “Juliet”, “Mountain Honey” and “Navidad” are all common grape tomato varieties.

Tomato Flavor Factors

Homegrown tomatoes are largely considered the pinnacle of tomato quality. However, there is a lot more to it than the “garden versus greenhouse” argument.According to East, the argument should be less about “homegrown versus greenhouse” and more about “vine ripened versus harvested early.” Home grown tomatoes are normally picked as they are ready, while tomatoes in stores are often harvested early and shipped great distances. This keeps the tomato fresh longer, but worsens its flavor. Some tomatoes may even be picked while still green, then ripened with chemicals after reaching the store. Not all greenhouse tomatoes are harvested early, though.

“I know of one tomato grower who grows his in greenhouses but picks them vine ripe,” East said. “They are just as good as any other tomato.”

There are other stress factors that can also affect tomato flavor.

“Low light, cold, disease, insects, not ripening properly before harvest, poor irrigation management and poor nutrition are all stress factors which can change the flavor of tomatoes,” East said.

Proper irrigation and nutrition will help gardeners get the most out of their tomatoes, but planting at the right time will make it all easier. Planting at the right temperature will cause plants to grow more quickly, giving gardeners their culinary favorite all the sooner.

“Using a soil thermometer is the best way to do it,” East said. “The soil should be between 60 and 95 degrees Fahrenheit at the coldest part of the day when planting.”

More Information

To learn more about growing tomatoes in the home garden, check out the Selecting Which Tomato Plants to Grow publication at


SOURCEThe Bibb Voice
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As the Bibb County Coordinator for Alabama Extension, Michelle Giddens coordinates the implementation of all Extension programs in Bibb County in many program areas. These program areas include 4-H and Youth Development, Animal Sciences, Food Safety and Quality, Forestry, Wildlife and Natural Resources, Human Nutrition, Diet and Health, Family and Child Development, Family Resource Management and Workforce Development, Commercial Horticulture, Home Grounds, Gardens and Home Pests, Farm and Agribusiness Management, and Community and Economic Development. Her experience includes with the eXtension Initiative at the University of Nebraska and with the eXtension Foundation; California State University, Fresno and Central Community College in Grand Island, NE. She currently serves on the board for Brierfield Fire and Rescue, a volunteer fire department serving Brierfield and Six Mile communities in Alabama