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Tomatoes For the High Desert

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

I'd like to get a thread going to discuss tomato varieties that do well—or not--in the high desert regions of the Southwest. I'm in Zone 8b at 4,760 feet (SE AZ). We're fairly dry, though we had good winter and summer rains last year, but we've had no rain since early-mid September. The coldest its been in our three winters of living here has been 22°F. Summer highs typically in the 90s, rarely over 100°F. It's VERY windy March through May/June. I grow tomatoes in 2 foot diameter cages, five feet high, made from concrete reinforcing mesh (six-inch square mesh) and I use drip irrigation. Other than losing a few plants to early curly top virus in 2009 (the lesson there is to get rid of wild growing London Rocket (a beet leaf hopper host)), I don't have any disease problems to speak of. Even hornworms haven't been an issue. My experiences over the last two summers:

Brandywine, various types—lovely, big plant, zero tomatoes. I want to grow them, but feel it's pointless in my climate. I hope someone can change my mind.
Stupica (2010 only)—Did well. Small tasty tomatoes, advertised as cold tolerant, but seems heat tolerant, too.
Celebrity—Does well. Lots of cracking in 2009. Mine tend to be small.
Early Girl—Does well. Mine tend to be small.
Giant Belgium—Did well in 2009, not in 2010 (2010 probably my fault). Beautiful, very big, tasty 'maters and good production.
Paul Robeson (2010 only)--Very lush plant, the foliage was so dense it looked like a brain (strange sounding but accurate description), zero tomatoes or flowers.
Wapsipinicon Peach—Small yellow, fuzzy tomatoes, very tasty although somewhat soft/mushy. Very productive.
Beam's Yellow Pear—Overly abundant and reliable, not the best tasting but fine in a salad or popped into your mouth right in the garden.
Gold Medal (2009 only)--Great big, tasty, beautiful tomatoes, low yield.
Sweet Pea Currant—Very productive and good tasting tiny tomato (a half inch or less in diameter). Plant sprawls all over; mine were nearly eight feet across. Grew out of the cage rather than up it. Good for popping or salads.
Japanese Black Trifele (2009 only)--Productive, tasty. Mine tended to crack a lot.
Orange Fleshed Purple Smudge (2009 only)—Attractive tomato, reasonably productive, poor taste.
Tommy Toe—Large cherry type. Tasty and productive. One of my favorites.
Cherokee Purple—Great tomato, not very productive.
Black Krim—Not very productive, lots of cracking and deformity.
Burpee Tomande (2010 only)--Good production, big, red, tasty tomatoes
Burpee Red October—Smallish but tasty tomatoes, Good production.
Sun Gold—Small, tasty, very productive cherry type. Another favorite.
Henderson's Pink Ponderosa—Nice big tasty tomatoes, fair production.
Burpee 4th of July—Nice, tasty smallish tomato. Minimal cracking.

What I'm really hoping for is discussion of varieties, escpecially heirlooms, that are reasonably tolerant of high desert growing conditions, as well as recommendations of what's not worth growing. For me, the most promising candidates to date are Giant Belgium, Black Trifele, Pink Ponderosa, and Tomande (a hybrid) I hope we can get a lot of information gathered from folks in similar climates and zero in on the most promising varieties for the high desert. I'm posting this in both here and in the “Southwest Gardening” forum to attract a (hopefully) wider audience. Thanks for contributing!

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Whoops, correct "Stupica" to read "Stupice". Also, feel free to weigh in with thoughts from anywhere with fairly hot, dry summers. I know that describes more than just the high deserts of the Southwest.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

There have actually been threads about this topic you may want to look back. I'll try also and post links. You should get more responses after the Holiday.
Off the top of my head:
Mortgage Lifter
Cherokee Purple
Arkansas Traveler
Thai Pink Egg (produces like crazy)
Cream Sausage ( some people don't like them)

Thumbnail by 1lisac
Albersbach, Germany

Willy, this year in Germany the first 3 weeks of July we had a taste of your weather with the temps hovering around 95 deg F. So I got a chance to see how the plants I was growing did in this heat. Al least 50% had no fruit set while others varied. Good news is there is a Brandywine that seems to do well in the heat and it's called "Cowlick's Pink Brandywine". I got good fruit set on my plant and good production. A friend also growing it who lives on the Alabama/Florida border said it was the only Brandywine he has grown that produced fruit in his climate. Here are some varieties that did well for me. Ami

Amazon Chocolate PL
Oleyar's German
Casady's Folly
Cowlick's Pink Brandywine
Krasnyi Mayak
Barlow Jap
Kolb Pink

And here are some varieties that performed well from the above mentioned individual on the Alabama/Florida border.

Stump of the World
Bill's Berkley Pink
Neves Azorean Red
Cabernet (hybrid)
JDs Special C Tex
Black Krim
Indian Stripe
Marianna's Peace
Cowlick's Pink Brandywine

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

I am interested to follow this thread. We are hot here but enjoy more humidity than those in the high desert so I don't have suggestions to contribute.

There are some interesting suggestions that I need to research ~ thanks.

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

One variety that I've had recommended a couple of times is Purple Calabash. Have any of you had any experience with it in hot, dry climates?

Espanola, NM(Zone 6b)

I'm at 6500 feet in the upper Rio Grande Valley. Our winters are a lot colder and the season is shorter, but the summer is hot and generally dry. Especially the last couple of years, it was 90-100 in June. Anyway, if it hits 90 the pollen just clumps and the blossoms drop as you know. Cherry tomatoes tend to handle it better, but I stretch shade cloth over a lot of the plants. Just a couple of thoughts, then. I've had good luck with some of the Brandywine crosses like Chianti Rose. Black from Tula is one of the best blacks here, Bedouin is the very best, and we plant some other early blacks. Purple Calabash is not a tomato I'd grow again - didn't like the flavor. And you are right about Purple Smudge - worst tomato award for that one. Thessaloniki, Chapman and Wes are great reds. If you're going to grow a hybrid you might go for Jetsetter rather than Early Girl. Yellow Submarine puts all other yellow pears to shame. Lucky Cross is a huge bicolor, and I had several Orange Strawberry plants you had to climb a ladder to pick.
I try to keep track of all the varieties we've grown on a spreadsheet on our farm website, but everyone's experience is different. If you're curious about what we've tried, that's at jandlgardens.
You'll probably be starting seed pretty soon - good luck and let us know how it goes.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

We are actually low desert (1000' elevation) here in Phoenix... Very hot and very dry...

I have had good luck with Phoenix (trialed plants sent from San Antonio last year and bought seeds for this year), Black Cherry, Sungold (though they are a little too sweet for my liking), Sun Sugar, Steak Sandwich, Dr. Carolyn (Pink and Yellow), Moskvich, Principe Borghese, Bloody Butcher, Large Pink Bulgarian and a couple of different Brandywine strains. There are more but that is what I can think of off the top of my head here at work - lol.

The key for us here is to get those seeds started mid-December to plant out around Valentine's Day. It's a gamble with a rare late frost, but any later and the long DTM heirlooms don't set fruit before the heat hits. Some folks fall plant them and get them through the winter or baby them through the summer. That is too much trouble for me sometimes;o) We had a frost early last week and Bloody Butcher and Sun Sugar came through with just a few damaged leaves. I didn't cover anything.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Locakelly ~ what do you consider the optimum DTM for growing in your zone?

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Hi pod! Best bet is something about 75 days. We never know when the heat will hit;o) But, I love all the old heirloom 90+ DTM goodies so need to improvise and get them in ground as soon as possible in the spring.

Deep East Texas, TX(Zone 8a)

Still learning here... thanks! I remember reading a DTM recommendation but don't think I saved the info. Need to sharpen my pencil and calculate.
For me Valentines day would be just too early here. That is recommended potato planting time but the soil is still too cold for tomatoes.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Yeah, you're probably safe to shoot for mid-March and be prepared to cover if needed for a late frost. Good thing is the plants will be relatively small and easier to cover;o) I try to plant out a month before our projected last frost date which is mid-March. I've lived in AZ 18 years and never seen one that late yet!

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Does anyone know where to get the Cowlick's Brandywine seed mentioned by Amideutch (above). If anyone has some for trade or sale, we could try to work something out. Hope everyone is enjoying the Holiday season--it's almost over.

Central Valley, CA(Zone 9a)

For a few years, I was afraid to grow anything beyond Super Sioux, Homestead and Arkansas Traveler because I didn't think they would work for my area. Once I got over that, I learned that most paste, standard reds (i.e. old commercial canning varieties) and cherries are productive no matter what the vendor descriptions. I've tried close to a hundred different types of tomatoes and most do give a descent crop.

Don't worry about not getting a load of fruit from the heirloom beefsteaks (i.e. Brandywine, Cherokee Purple and Mortgage Lifter). They are notoriously tempermental. In a good year, there will be about 4 to 5 tomatoes per plant. As Locakelly mentioned, get them in the ground early. Ocassionally, there will be a few days here and there were the temperture is just right for them to set. Marvel Stripe is the only beefsteak that does well every year. Great White and Marianna's Peace did well in the past.

Flower size and structure is a good indicator of what may or may not work in hotter areas. Small flowers with a short or no visable style tend to do set under a wider range of temps. The large flowered - sometimes called old fashioned blossoms - with extra long styles often fail to set fruit when temps are about 85 degrees.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I actually have gotten tons of fruit off my plants this year, they are stilll going. However, every year is different. All I grow is O/Ps I'll list them later, when I have more time.

Albersbach, Germany

Willy, you can order them from Tatiana's at the link below. It's listed as Brandywine, Cowlick's. Ami

This message was edited Dec 31, 2010 10:52 AM

Sierra Vista, AZ(Zone 8b)

Amideutch--Thanks--seeds are already ordered!

1lisac--I look forward to your OP list. I bought a ham from Robertson's when I was in your neck of the woods about 15 years ago. Made the whole plane smell like smoke on the trip home!

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

I can't believe you brought a ham on a plane!

These are the tomatoes that did the best for me this year and they are still going because I have protected them from the freezing weather.
1) Thai Pink Egg-first year
2) Limmony-first year
3) Mortgage Lifter- Pink and Yellow ( always does great)
4) Black Krim-first year
5) Paul Robeson-My favorite
6) Black from Tula- first year
7) Porter-first year
8) Rutgers-first year
9) Cherokee Choc-first year
10) Hillbilly-great production
11) Big Rainbow-great production
12) Arkansas Traveler

All these did great but they were very late in producing.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)


Did you save any seed from the Hillbilly? I tried it this year, and I had absolutely NO tomatoes. Maybe I had a bad variant. I think I bought from Parks, with the Sweet Pickles pepper seeds. The vines were decent, but never set any fruit.

I did have good luck with Porter, Rutgers, and Arkansas Traveler among the tomatoes you list.

David R

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

No David I didn't save any seeds. However, I can send you a few from the packet I have from Baker Creek. Just Dmail me. I need to order more anyway.
Mine produed late well they all did but this was really late.
Did yours bloom? I grew these plants in a location that I had never used before. The area has more shade which I think helped a lot.

camp verde, AZ(Zone 8a)

Willy, I grow in Camp verde az., Over the years of growing tomatos in our region I found the best open pollinated tomato for our region to be the pearson A-1 improved. For hybrid go with Big Beef or Betterboys, both are bery easy plants to find. Google the pearson and you will find the seeds. I keep trying to get the boys out at bonnies to plant this old variety but no take yet! Was a very popular tomato in the phoenix area back in the 50's and 60's, this was the variety that the japanese farmers planted in the phoenix area years ago.

Hutto, TX(Zone 8b)

Lisa-the amount of sun may be the issue (with heat and dryness). All my tomatoes are in the garden patch, in FULL, all-day sun. Maybe I'll order Hillbilly from Baker Creek next year and give them a try. I'm ready to start the seeds I have now, so I can plant early!


Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

Interesting reading this morning.

I haven't participated b'c I have no experience growing tomatoes at high and dry locations.

Low and humid OK, low and high temps and humid OK, and temperate during the season OK, but, not high and dry. ( smile)

I guess all I can say is that if a variety doesn't perform well in one season and it's one that others have had success with, grow it the next season. This past summer half of my plants had no fruits, so those varieties will be regrown this coming summer, with fingers crossed.

No two growing seasons are exactly the same, wherever anyone lives.

Carolyn, just wondering a bit about the above reference to Dr. Carolyn Yellow. I'm told that White Flower Farm was selling plants with that name, but the name that Steve Draper gave to that variety was just Dr. Carolyn. All so called white tomatoes ripen up to never white, but colors ranging from ivory to pale yellow to perhaps even a darker yellow. It all depends on the degree of foliage cover and the exposure to UV. The whitest and best tasting LARGE fruited variety that I've grown is White Queen which actually has some taste.

Liberty Hill, TX(Zone 8a)

The problem with TX, at least in my area, is that it can be dry or humid. There is no way of knowing. I have finally decided to stick with the ones that I know will produce and add new ones here and there.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Hi Carolyn...

The Dr. Carolyn seeds I grew came from One was deep pink fruited with darker shoulders, the other a pale yellow.


Edited bacause I hit send before my brain was done - lol...

White Flower Farm does sell plants of Dr. Carolyn, the yellow (parent?) variety.

Tatiana's sells seeds of the pink, the parent and a green called Green Doctors (a green cherry sport of the variety Dr. Carolyn) .

This message was edited Jan 8, 2011 6:24 PM

Salem, NY(Zone 4b)

Kelly, the names are:

Dr. Carolyn, ivory fruits to pale yellow. Yes I know White Flower Farm renamed it Dr. Carolyn Yellow which they shouldn't have done. it appears that they don't realize that there are NO totally white varieties although White Queen is the whitest and best tasting one one I've come across, not a cherry. The degree of so called whiteness is dependedn on the variety first, then the degree of Foliage cover and then the degree of UV exposure.In the past I've e-mailed WFF several times b'c they've had wrong info and wrong pictures of varieties.

So the seed you got from Trudi was cross pollinated as donated to her and she clearly says that she's not repsonsible for X pollinated, not true varieties.

In another thread here I just went through how the variety Dr. Carolyn came about as well as Dr. Carolyn pink as well as Dr. Carolyn mutating to Green Doctors and then Green Doctors mutating with an epidermis mutation to Green Doctors Frosted.

There were no parents involved as I just explained in the answer I wrote just a few minuetes ago; all came from saved seeds of Galina. I'd go look for it but then I'd lose this post. LOL

yes, I know what's at Tania's site, less than 30 min ago she sent me her list of varieties she would like from my seed offer at Tville which I'm going to have to close soon b'c there's about 80 responses and that means packing about 400 seed packs, and well, enough is enough and besides I'm a tennis nut and the Australian Open starts in about a week. LOL But I'm glad to share with others some of the varieties I also SSE list and others that are brand new. Tania and I have been friends now for several years.

Carolyn, and hopefully someone here can point you to the post I refer to about the sequence of Dr. Carolyn to Green Doctors Frosted and how it all came about.

Phoenix, AZ(Zone 9a)

Thanks for the information Carolyn! I love reading your posts and learning from you;o) There is a lot of misinformation out there and it's nice to have a source to come to and hear the real story... I like WinterSown as I get to try new varieties - I understand the no guarantee but have always had good luck with their seeds.

That's a lot of seed packs to pack - lol. I don't visit Tomatoville as much as I should. I ♥ seeing all the varieties and adding them to my list of 'maters I must grow. Now I need to find White Queen - lol...

I'll see if I can dig around and find the post unless someone beats me to it. Enjoy the Open. I loved watching tennis when I was a kid, Martina and Steffi, Connors and McEnroe... That probably gives you a clue that I'm fairly young with lots to learn still;o)

Thanks again!


Edited to say I found it! The search here at DG is much more efficient these days...

This message was edited Jan 8, 2011 7:50 PM

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