Tomatoes (Solanum lycopersicum) are perennials in the tropics that are typically grown as annuals in temperate climates. Judging the best of any vegetable to plant is always subjective, but in the case of tomatoes, climate, taste and disease resistance are all factors that home gardener in Southern California may want to consider.
The University of California’s Vegetable Research Information Center groups 20 tomato cultivars by appropriate California climates:
- Tomato cultivars appropriate for the Napa and Sonoma valleys also grow well coastal areas from Santa Barbara south, coastal foothills surrounding the Central Valley, Santa Ana, Los Angeles and San Diego. These all have warm summers but with temperatures typically below 90 degrees Fahrenheit.
- A second group of cultivars will thrive in high and low deserts, inland valleys and areas where the sun regularly exceeds 90 F during the summer. These areas include Riverside and interior valleys of San Diego County.
- A third group of cultivars are for cooler areas of California with nighttime temperatures ranging from 45 F to 55 F.
A tomato truss is a group of blossoms that yield tomatoes. They are a key identifying feature of the two main types of tomato cultivars.
Indeterminate tomatoes are vine-like cultivars and heirloom tomatoes that grow trusses on the sides of branches, rather than on their tips. In Southern California’s warm climate, indeterminate tomatoes can grow more than 7 feet tall and have to be supported in a wire cage or tied to a stake. Their flavorful tomatoes ripen over much of the summer growing season.
Determinate tomatoes, which are typically newer cultivars, grow on bushes from 3 to 5 feet tall. They stop growing taller because they grow flower trusses on their tips of stems and branches. They yield a large quantity of ripe tomatoes over a short period, usually in June.
A Los Angeles Times taste-test ranked 10 hybrid tomatoes that are suitable for growing in the climate and weather conditions of Southern California.
- The winner of the most flavorful tomato in The Times’s tomato taste test was ‘President’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘President.’)
- The best of the beefsteak varieties, ‘Supersteak’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Burpee’s Supersteak’), an indeterminate, yielding flavorful tomatoes weighing up to 2 pounds.
- The best tomato to grow in a flower bed, large container or small garden is ‘Better Bush’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Better Bush’), an indeterminate that grows just 3 feet high and 3 feet wide, yielding medium-sized tomatoes over a long harvest season.
- The best cherry tomato is ‘Sweet 100’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Sweet 100’). A large, indeterminate plant, ‘Sweet 100’ can yield up to 1,000 sweet cherry tomatoes.
- ‘Early Girl’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Early Girl’) is the earliest-maturing tomato in The Times’ taste test. Nursery seedlings of these determinate plants will yield tomatoes ready to pick in 55 to 60 days.
- The best tasting yellow tomato is ‘Lemon Boy’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Champion’), yielding 100 flavorful, medium-sized, lemon-yellow tomatoes.
- ‘Celebrity’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Celebrity’), a determinate, yields medium-sized, deep red tomatoes, and it is an All-America Selections winner.
- 'Better Boy’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Better Boy’), an indeterminate and one of the best tomatoes for growing in Southern California, produces good quantities of large, flavorful tomatoes.
- ‘Champion’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Champion’), an indeterminate, produces an abundance of delicious tomatoes over a long harvest period.
- Another cherry tomato ‘Cherry Grande’ (Solanum lycopersicum ‘Cherry Grande’), a determinate, yields large, flavorful cherry tomatoes in grape-like clusters.
The University of California’s Vegetable Research Information Center recommends that home gardeners checking nursery seedlings should look first at the seedling’s tag to see if the cultivar resists common tomato plant diseases. Resistance to vermicillium, fusarium, nematodes and tobacco mosaic virus will be indicated by the letters V, F, N and TMV.
Cornell University’s Department of Plant Pathology lists the resistance of more than 350 tomato cultivars to 45 different diseases and pathogens.
Two winners of the Los Angeles Times taste test, ‘Celebrity’ and ‘Champion,’ were rated V, F, N and TMV.