The GardenZeus Guide to Tomato Varieties for California Zone 12

The GardenZeus Guide to Tomato Varieties for California Zone 12

When selecting tomato varieties for your garden, consider your own needs and preferences, and the many aspects of the tomato variety and the tomatoes it produces, from plants’ growth and fruiting habits to cultural needs to fruit size and flavor.

GardenZeus generally recommends organic, open-pollinated, and heirloom seed varieties, and we note specifically on our site when we’re aware that a stated variety is a hybrid.

The most famous heirloom tomato is undoubtedly Brandywine, the luscious pink-to-red tomato with flavor so outstanding it continues to inspire gardeners and generate interest in heirloom tomatoes and even the entire category of heirloom vegetables. GardenZeus believes that every tomato lover should grow Brandywine at least once; but beware, many plants labeled and sold with the Brandywine name, such as Brandywine Black, Brandywine Yellow, Brandywine OTV and even plain Brandywine, may or may not be closely related to the original heirloom Brandywine tomato and may or may not have that luscious tomato flavor. For those who have tried Brandywine once or twice and found it to be nothing special, you might consider trying again; perhaps the strain you tried wasn’t a true Brandywine (and it is, of course, also possible that you might not like heirloom Brandywine). GardenZeus recommends the Brandywine strain sold by Tomatofest as a reliable heirloom.

Other standout, heat-tolerant, and reasonably productive heirlooms for your zone include:

– Black Krim, which is unsurpassed as a black tomato, and for those who love the rich flavor of black heirlooms.

– Black Zebra, a reliable black tomato with green stripes.

– Green Zebra, recommended by GardenZeus more for its reliability and attractiveness as an addition to salad, or to a bowl of sliced or whole tomatoes, than for particularly exceptional flavor.

– Big Beef and Beefsteak for large heirloom beefsteak tomatoes with excellent flavor (note that hybrids are also sold under these names, so if you want heirloom seeds, be sure to read descriptions carefully).

Tobolsk is a good choice in your zone for those who prefer the sweet taste of yellow tomatoes, but it is not as heat tolerant as the other recommended heirlooms, so it should be started in late winter or early spring for a longer harvest period before hot summer weather arrives.

Most tomato varieties are unable to pollinate at high temperatures and may produce fruit slowly or not at all during hot periods when temperatures climb to the high 90s or above. Oregon Spring is a parthenocarpic variety that produces fruit without pollination, and may be a good choice for fruit production during both hot summers and cold winters in your zone.

Although GardenZeus generally recommends open-pollinated and heirloom seed varieties, many gardeners with particular needs, preferences, or environmental challenges may choose to grow hybrids in addition to or instead of heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. With tomatoes and other vegetables, hybrid varieties tend to be more vigorous, more productive, and more resistant to diseases than heirloom and open-pollinated varieties. For the best chance of having a steady supply of summer tomatoes and/or if you need high productivity in a limited growing space, consider a reliable hybrid, such as Early Girl. For a productive hybrid beefsteak-type, try Porterhouse. Gardeners who have had difficulty with tomato plants fruiting in extreme heat should consider trying the hybrid Heatwave II.

Cherry-tomato varieties are generally the most vigorous, productive, and easiest to grow of all tomato types. They come in a range of colors, from red to orange, yellow, white, or even black; and in shapes varying from round to pear to cylindrical. For a productive, red, heirloom cherry, try Sweetie. For rich, tart black tomato flavor in a cherry size, try Black Plum or Black Cherry. Choose from many excellent and heat-tolerant yellow heirloom cherry tomatoes: Lollipop (lemony), Yellow Pear (sweet), and Gold Nugget (good sweet to tart balance). For a unique and fun heirloom variety, try Isis Candy, which produces red and yellow marbled fruits. See “Container Gardening” in the GardenZeus section “Planting and Maintaining” for cherry, grape, mini, and other tomato varieties recommended for growing in containers.

If you need both disease resistance and high productivity in a red cherry, look no further than the exceptional hybrid SuperSweet 100. Sun Gold is the indomitable stand-out yellow cherry hybrid, well known for producing copious quantities of orangish tomatoes with fabulous taste that are great for fresh snacking.

Cooks and kitchen gardeners will not want to be without their paste tomatoes, also called “plum” and “sauce” tomatoes. These varieties are generally cylindrical in shape, and are the best suited of all tomatoes for cooking and preserving because their fruits produce fewer seed cavities and seeds, and have both lower water content and higher proportion of solid flesh than other tomatoes, which makes them preferable for cooking. For growing large numbers of tomatoes to preserve in a single batch try the oblong, red, waxy Roma, an heirloom version of the classic paste tomato frequently found at supermarkets.  If you have had disease problems with Roma tomatoes, consider growing the Roma hybrid. Those who value optimal flavor over large volume should grow San Marzano Redorta, an heirloom tomato which produces extremely large oblong fruits with outstanding flavor.  One or two San Marzano Redorta tomatoes make enough sauce for dinner!

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