Spring has finally arrived, and it makes us think about planting our vegetable gardens. Hopefully, your beds or containers are prepared, because the ground is becoming warm and it is the right time to plant veggies.
One of the most popular vegetables grown in Oklahoma is the tomato. With the right varieties, nutrient-rich soil and conditions, tomatoes are relatively easy to grow.
Tomatoes should be grown in full sun, at least six hours of sunshine a day, away from trees and shrubs. They grow well in many types of soil but prefer deep, fertile, well-drained soil that is well supplied with organic matter. You can add fertilizer when you prepare your bed for planting; if you haven't tested your soil, add one to two pounds of 10-10-10 or similar fertilizer for each 100 square feet of soil.
Choosing the right variety of tomato is important, and there are several selections available at your local nursery or garden center. Consider size, time to maturity and disease resistance. All these characteristics are noted on the plant tags. For large fruit, some varieties available include Better Boy, Big Beef, Celebrity and Early Girl.
For small fruit, Sweet 100, Small Fry and Yellow Pear are all good, and Roma is great for making tomato paste. Time to maturity varies, but it will be noted on the information tag. Sometimes it is better to choose a variety that matures earlier, because tomatoes do not like nighttime temperatures higher than 80. Earlier maturing varieties will produce a nice crop before it gets too hot and then may begin to produce again as the weather cools in the fall.
Disease resistance is important when buying your plants. If a plant is disease resistant, you will see certain codes on the plant tags.
Most common codes are V -- Verticillium Wilt, F and F2 -- Fusarium Wilt, Race 1 and Race 2, and N -- Root-Knot Nematode. These codes mean that the plant is resistant to these diseases. Your best bet is to buy plants coded VFF2N, but if you don't get plants coded for all these diseases, some disease resistance is better than none.
The ideal tomato plant should be 6 to 8 inches tall, with a stocky stem and well-developed root system. Set your tomato plants in the garden when weather is warm and soil temperature is above 60, although soil temperatures may be warm earlier this year since we have had some warm weather.
Remove any bands or plastic, but if the plant is in a peat pot, it is OK to plant the pot. Be sure the plants are moist when you get ready to plant; also put some water in your planting hole before inserting the plant. Set plants slightly deeper than they originally grew so lower leaves are close to the ground. If you have leggy plants, lay them down in a trench so only the top six inches show. This will allow roots to develop along the buried stem. Set your plants out in the evening or on a cloudy day to avoid wilting.
One issue that you may have is cutworms, which curl their way around the stem of the plant and eat it. Place a small skewer in the ground right next to the stem of the plant. This will prevent the cutworm from encircling the stem. After planting, water each plant; then you are on your way to yummy tomatoes.
Be sure to check the Cleveland County Master Gardener website for possible classes upcoming this summer. Once we get past the COVID-19 conditions, we hope to offer gardening classes at the Cleveland County Extension Center, as we have done in the past. You can find all the latest information at clevelandcountymastergardeners.org.