Writer: Paul Schattenberg, 210-859-5752, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: David Rodriguez, 210-631-0400, email@example.com
SAN ANTONIO – The 2018 “rodeo tomato” has been selected and this year’s choice is the Sunbrite variety, said David Rodriguez, Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service horticulturist, Bexar County.
“Each year, a new tomato variety is selected to be the official ‘rodeo tomato’ for the San Antonio Livestock Show and Rodeo, which this year runs from Feb. 8-24,” Rodriguez said. “This tradition has been ongoing for more than 20 years.”
He said the Sunbrite was one of many tomato plant varieties tested during the annual Texas A&M AgriLife tomato trials. Sunbrite tomato plants will be available for sale at the Bexar County Master Gardener display at the HEB Little Buckaroo Farms tent on the San Antonio Livestock Exposition grounds throughout the 17-day event.
The plants, available in 4 ½-inch size pots, will be $3 each or can be purchased as part of a mix-and-match four-plant assortment for $10, he said.
“We will also have three of the four 2018 Texas Superstar plant releases for sale at the Master Gardener booth staffed by volunteers from the Bexar County Master Gardeners and Guadalupe County Master Gardeners associations,” he said. “These Superstar plants, which were chosen for their beauty and adaptability to Texas climates, are the Blue Angel althea, Mystic Spires Blue Improved salvia and Festival strawberry. We’ll also be selling a bluebonnet six pack and herb plants.”
For more information on the Superstar plants available for sale, go to http://bit.ly/2nxHLUs.
He said proceeds from the plant sale will be used to help fund Junior Master Gardener Scholarships.
“The Junior Master Gardener program introduces youth to gardening and also helps them develop life skills and an appreciation for nature,” Rodriguez said.
He said the Sunbrite tomato was chosen in part because it is a midseason hybrid tomato that is well adapted to Texas growing conditions since the compact vine provides adequate foliage cover and produces a concentrated fruit set.
“This tomato is a semi-determinate variety that produces high yields of extra-large fruit that are firm and ripen uniformly,” he said. “The tomatoes also have an excellent smoothness when grown under normal conditions.”
He said the variety is also resistant to many plant diseases, including alternaria stem canker, verticillium wilt, fusarium wilt and gray leaf spot.
“The fruit is oblate in shape and ripens to a deep red color,” Rodriguez said. “In our testing, this plant demonstrated high yields with an excellent and consistent fruit quality. The fruit holds up well, and the plant performs nicely in early and mid-season plantings. Plus it has excellent foliage, which provides the tomatoes additional protection against heat.”
He said one way to help ensure success with this variety is to pot the plant into a 1-gallon container before setting it out in the garden for the spring, when soil air temperatures are warm enough to support plant growth and fruit setting.
“In this region, this time frame is usually from early March through the first week of April,” Rodriguez said. “For the best results, pot up your transplants with a pre-moistened peat-based potting mix and then enrich that mix with copious amounts of a slow-release fertilizer made especially for container plants. The key plant nutrient will be nitrogen. If adequate plant fertility is not maintained, the plant will be small, yellow in color and produce much less fruit.”
He suggested placing the potted tomato plant in full sun and out of the wind, and to move it to shelter when the temperature dips below 40 degrees.
“If you do everything as described, your potted plants will become quite large, and may even begin blooming by late March or early April,” he said. “The plants can then be transplanted to the vegetable garden or a much larger diameter container.”
He said plants with small fruit should not be transplanted before moving them to a permanent location.
“If there are small tomatoes on the transplants, the plants will be stunted when establishing them in the garden location, so remove the immature fruit for ample plant establishment,” he said. “Also, a tomato plant will produce a higher quality fruit if caged. Cages should be at least 4-5 feet tall with a 16-20 inch diameter.”
Rodriguez said additional tips on growing tomatoes and other aspects of gardening and horticulture can be provided by the volunteers staffing the Master Gardener plant sale and information booths.