About Fall Gardening in South Carolina
Gardening is not only relaxing, but it also produces tasty produce for meals, especially when planting and growing edible fruits, such as tomatoes. The tomato is classified as a fruit versus a vegetable because the plant is formed from a flower and the fruit contains seeds. Whether you call it a fruit or a vegetable, growing tomatoes in South Carolina can provide a bounty of choices in size, texture, and flavor.
Overall, for the state, the USDA growing zones are 7a to 9a, with some assigned to zones 7b to 8b. In South Carolina, three areas where a variety of tomato types are grown for consumption include the Lowcountry (8b), the Midlands (8a), and the Upstate regions (7a).
Why Plant for Fall Tomatoes?
For those who enjoy the taste of tomatoes and use the fruit for a variety of menu items, having access to a freshly grown batch from a traditional raised garden, staked garden, or container garden in your backyard during the fall season is something to look forward to.
Another advantage to growing tomatoes for fall production is the cooler temperatures allow the fruit to form and set up better, which means firm and flavorful tomatoes. The cooler temperatures also serve as a deterrent to insects, which can mean more usable tomatoes.
Fall Tomato Production in South Carolina
For a yield of tomatoes in the fall, gardeners have the option of buying established tomato plants and transplanting them into the garden area.
According to information from Clemson University’s home and garden information center, for the coastal region, fall planting ranges from July 1 to July 31. In the Piedmont region (aka the Upstate region), fall planting is not recommended.
Depending on the region, tomato seedlings that have emerged from sown seeds can be transplanted outside once they have generated a set of what is referred to as true leaves, and the plant itself is between two to four inches in height.
The Lowcountry region has a USDA planting zone designation of 8b. The b signifies that the average minimum temperature during the winter can fall between 15 degrees and 20 degrees. Located in the southern and easternmost regions of the state, the area is comprised of 11 counties. These include Orangeburg, Allendale, Jasper, Bamberg, Hampton, Beaufort, Dorchester, Berkeley, Colleton, Charleston, and Calhoun.
The Midlands is in USDA planting zone 8a. The “a” subset indicates the average low temperature can range from 10 degrees to 15 degrees. Counties that make up the Midlands region include Lancaster, Saluda, Barnwell, Richland, Chester, Newberry, Edgefield, Lexington, Kershaw, Fairfield, Aiken, and York.
Situated in USDA planting zone 7a, like other hardiness zones, the zone has two subsets (a and b). The estimated minimum average temperature for the region falls between 0 degrees to 5 degrees. Counties in the Upstate region include Abbeville, Spartanburg, Cherokee, Pickens, Greenville, Oconee, Greenwood, McCormick, Greenville, Laurens, and Union counties.
Tomato Plants for the Fall
When planting tomatoes in the fall, it’s important to choose plants that thrive in cooler temperatures. It’s also important to choose determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties that are suited to fall growing and production.
If you are just starting out in gardening, visit a local garden center or nursery and ask for information about which tomatoes will grow in the USDA growing zone for your specific area. These can then be transplanted into the garden or containers.
You also have the option of starting the tomato plants from seeds that will emerge as seedlings. Follow the instructions for transplanting the seedlings into pots or an outside garden area.
Online shopping for fall tomato plants and seeds is also an option. If using this method, do thorough research to ensure you choose appropriate plants or seeds for the specific USDA zone.
Planting tomato seeds during the fall also is an option. Again, the seeds must be able to survive and thrive in whichever USDA zone they will reside. Seeds require special care to get them to the seedling stage and then transplanted. Online gardening and horticultural websites can provide the appropriate information for the cultivars.
Indeterminate versus Determinate
Indeterminate varieties are also referred to as “vining” tomatoes. The reason is they grow as a vine that continues to get longer and longer as the season progresses. These tomato varieties form flowers along the shoot themselves, but unlike the determinate varieties, they will continue to grow.
Determinate tomatoes are just the opposite of indeterminate varieties. Unlike their counterpart that continuously grows throughout the season creating an extensive “vine” network, determinate tomato plants grow to their mature height and form the fruit at the same time. Once the flowers begin to form on shoot ends, determinate plants do not continue to grow shoots.
Types of Tomatoes
South Carolina’s climate may be hot and humid and perfect for numerous tomato varieties that thrive when planted during the late spring. There are also tomatoes that prefer cooler fall temperatures.
There are many available varieties of tomatoes for South Carolina gardens. The following is a short list of some of the top varieties.
- Early Girl
- Green Zebra
- Cherokee Purple
- Sun Gold
Days to maturity for the tomato varieties range from 60 to more than 100 days to come to harvest.
Whether tomatoes can be planted in November, for example, depends on the plant’s maturity date, so a little calculating will be necessary.
When planting fall tomatoes, the number of days it will take for the plant to reach maturity must be less than the number of days expected for the first frost of the season. If the calculation is in your favor, the tomatoes can be planted.
An example is USDA zone 7. The estimated date for the first frost takes place during mid-October, but the zone has also been known to generate a first frost condition at the beginning of November. USDA zone 8 has an estimated first frost date between October 11 and October 20.
A light freeze has temperatures ranging from 29 degrees to 32 degrees Fahrenheit and can result in killing new and/or tender plants.
A moderate freeze ranges from 25 degrees to 28 degrees Fahrenheit and is destructive to plants.
A severe freeze has temperatures of 24 degrees and below, which causes significant damage to the majority of garden plants.
For South Carolina gardeners, choose an appropriate tomato variety for your USDA zone. Next, determine if the time the tomatoes are planted allows enough time before the first frost. You will also want to know what the best planting and transplanting techniques are for tomatoes and know the type of pests and diseases that can harm or destroy the plants.