COLLEGE STATION — Texas vegetable gardeners looking for a “can’t miss” spring tomato should check out the Merced, a hybrid that has routinely scored at the top of variety trials conducted around the state for over five years by Texas Agricultural Extension Service horticulturists.
“Tested in many areas of Texas and the South, Merced has proved to be one of the most productive and attractive spring-planted tomatoes,” said Greg Grant, Extension horticulturist in Rusk. “Merced produces large red fruit that are smooth and firm with an excellent flavor.”
As a result, the Merced has been selected for the Extension Service’s Coordinated Educational and Marketing Assistance Program, which helps make home gardeners aware of top-notch plant varieties that do best in Texas.
Extension horiculturist Dr. Larry Stein of Uvalde, who conducted tomato trials in the Winter Garden region in South Central Texas, said typically the Merced came out ahead of 20 or more leading varieties grown in plots under the same conditions.
“The Merced is a small but bushy plant with lots of leaves whose shade keeps the fruit from scorching under the Texas sun,” he said. “This variety grows lots of big, nice-looking tomatoes, and few if any have stem cracks.”
The Merced is considered a “race horse” tomato, Grant said, which means, like most highly productive hybrids, it needs a high degree of horticultural care for maximum results.
“It’s a well known fact that hybrid tomatoes require more fertilizer and consequently produce higher yields. High fertility is required, both for increased fruit size and numbers, as well as to provide good foliage cover to prevent sunscald. The most productive Merced tomatoes ever grown in the state were mulched with several inches of horse manure.”
Healthy, actively growing transplants should be planted in a well-prepared garden soil to which a complete fertilizer has been added, Grant explained. It’s imperative that they be planted in a location that receives at least 8-10 hours of full sun each day. No tomato will produce well in the shade.
“To get transplants off to a fast start, they should be watered in with a water soluble fertilizer high in phosphorus,” he said. “To give your plants the high-octane nutrition they need throughout the growing season, sidedress them with nitrogen fertilizer (21-0-0, or similar) every two to three weeks.”
The Merced tomato needs to be staked or caged for best results. Staked plants with the early suckers removed will produce the largest fruit. However, leave later suckers to help shade and protect the tomatoes.
For more information on Merced and maximum production of high quality tomatoes, check out Aggie Horticulture’s Plant Answers web site:
“Unlike many homegrown tomatoes with rough green shoulders and numerous cracks, Merced is completely red and smooth, which makes for a prettier culinary display and avoids waste,” Grant said.
“Without a doubt, the tomato is the most popular garden vegetable in Texas and probably the world,” he said. “There’s no comparison between an imported tomato and the vine-ripened, homegrown version.
Transplants of Merced are available at nurseries, garden centers and feed stores throughout the state.