One of the most popular vegetable crops for homeowners to grow is tomatoes. What better way to add to delicious summer salads or those backyard grilled hamburgers than by growing your very own juicy, mouth-watering tomatoes?

The versatile tomato can be grown about anywhere there’s sunshine for all or most of the day in the garden, flower beds, pots, patios, windowsills or balconies. The abundant rains should have helped out garden sites with adequate soil moisture.

Now the key is to watch the temperature. Some gardeners start their tomato plants in a covered tomato cage to protect from that late March freeze. Others wait to set out plants until the first of April.

Some tomato varieties recommended for Texas include 444, Bingo, Carnival, Heatwave, Celebrity, Merced and Sunmaster. Small fruit choices are Small Fry and Cherry Red. These are just some of the varieties that work.

In selecting tomatoes, start out with professionally grown plants from your local feed store, garden center or greenhouse. Choose plants that are approximately six inches tall, have a stalky appearance, good stem, good green color and good root development.

Most garden soils will grow tomatoes. Whatever you do to improve it will be rewarded by larger and more plentiful fruit.

If the garden has been in production for several years, it is recommended to put out one pound of 21-0-0 per 100 square feet. Once the tomato plants are growing well add a tablespoon of 21-0-0 per plant at three weeks of growth. Ideally, fertilizer rates should be based on soil sample analysis.

Plant tomatoes at least three feet apart, make each hole deep enough so that the lower part of the stem will be buried and ensure complete coverage of the root ball with soil.

Water the plants thoroughly as soon as they are planted and check often to be sure the soil does not dry out. A depression around each plant helps direct water to the young roots. Mulch around the plants to retain moisture and discourage weed growth after the soil begins to warm.

Continue to water thoroughly whenever the soil starts to dry out for the life of the plant. Deep soakings are better to encourage deep root growth. An even supply of water is especially important when tomato fruits are developing. Using drip irrigation under the mulch will help ensure a uniform water supply.

Caging is ideal in home gardens. Concrete reinforcing wire or cattle panel works well. Many gardening centers sell tomato cages that also do a good job. When cutting the wire to form a cylinder, cut 5 ˝ to 6 ˝ feet, which will allow for 20 to 30 inches diameter after the cylinder is formed.

Growing tomatoes in cages offers several advantages:

•  The plant will need no pruning;

•  The fruit is kept off the ground, reducing loss from rotting;

• The leaves act as an umbrella to protect the fruit from sun scald and reduce damage by hail

• Foliage dries more rapidly and reduces the incidence of disease.

For  more information, call the AgriLife Extension Office at 254-897-2809.