MS Medallion honors Garden Gem tomato
I’ve promoted the 2020 Mississippi Medallion winners Colorblaze coleus, beautyberry and Luscious lantana for the last three weeks. Now, I want to tell you about the fourth and final 2020 selection, Garden Gem tomato.
This will come as a surprise to the Southern Gardening Nation, but I think I’m starting to like eating fresh tomatoes. I’m certainly looking forward to picking fresh Garden Gem tomatoes this summer.
So, here are the facts about this latest honoree. Garden Gem has a semi-determinate growth habit. This means the plant is a smaller, indeterminate grower with a bushy habit that is much like determinate tomatoes.
Determinate tomatoes grow to a genetically controlled height, typically about 4 to 5 feet tall. They generally set fruit over the course of five or six weeks. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow until frost in the fall, some reaching over 8 feet tall. These plants flower and set fruit all through the summer and fall.
At maturity, Garden Gem will reach a height of 30 to 42 inches and spread 12 to 20 inches wide.
Garden Gem is ideal for Mississippi gardens as it produces fruit over an extended period of time. Mature tomatoes are plum-shaped, 2-ounce fruits that ripen in about 55 days. Best of all, Garden Gem thrives in the heat and humidity of our Mississippi gardens.
In the ground, space plants 24 to 30 inches apart and provide support such as trellises, stakes or tomato cages. I suggest planting in raised beds, as all tomatoes appreciate growing in well-drained soil.
Garden Gem is an especially great choice for growing in containers. I’m going to grow mine in self-watering, subirrigated boxes, but another good strategy is to use large, 5- to 10-gallon containers.
Garden Gem tastes like an heirloom but has the disease resistance and high fruit yield of improved hybrids.
But first some bad news: You may not find Garden Gem at your local garden center this spring.
Now the good news: You can buy seed and grow them at home. That’s what I’m going to do. You can find seed from Proven Winners available online.
Here are some tips to make growing your own transplants relatively easy. Start your tomatoes five to six weeks before planting them outdoors. Use a clear, plastic dome to cover your seeding tray. The dome traps any moisture that evaporates and maintains high humidity.
Germination trays and covers are available at local garden centers. Remove the cover after germination has occurred. Warm the potting mix to help with germination. Seed germination mats are available to raise the mix temperature to the 80 degree range. You can also place the germination trays on top of the refrigerator to take advantage of that warm surface.
After germination, remove the seedling tray from the source of warmth. The seeds like to germinate in a warm mix, but the plants like to grow in cool mix.
Next, provide light for the growing seedlings. Shop lights are a good choice, and fixtures are inexpensive. I like to use LED lights. Keep the lights about 3 inches above the growing seedlings for 16 hours per day.
Lightly brush your hand across the seedlings a couple of times a day. This helps keep the seedlings from stretching. Place the trays outside on days above 50 degrees to acclimate the seedlings to outdoor conditions.
For more information on this process, check out the Southern Gardening TV segment, Starting Plants Indoors, http://extension.msstate.edu/southern-gardening/video/2017/starting-plants-indoors.