The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 23, 2013

Getting off to a good start with tomatoes

By Shannon Vaverka
Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — It soon will be time to plant tomatoes. By following a few steps, you can be sure you are getting your tomato plants off to a good start.

At the 2011 State Master Gardeners Conference in Enid, Ray Campbell, horticulturist and former “Oklahoma Gardening” host, discussed these steps during his presentation, “All About Growing Tomatoes.”

The steps to this research-based method are:

• Two weeks prior to planting — around mid-April — select a site with full sun and good soil drainage.

• Prepare the soil by digging an 8-inch deep by 12-inch wide hole and fill it with a mixture of the following ingredients: two parts organic matter, such as compost or rotted manure (roughly four gallons); one part good garden soil, (roughly two gallons); two tablespoons of a high phosphorus fertilizer, such as 10-20-10; and 1⁄3 cup of agricultural lime, (ground limestone).

• Repeat the above step for each tomato plant you plan to grow.  Holes should be spaced 2 to 4 feet apart.

  At this point lightly moisten the soil if it is dry and wait two weeks before planting. This will give the nutrients time to release into the soil and become available for the plants when they are planted.

• In the meantime, select your tomato plants. Look for the dark green stocky plants that are 6 to 8 inches tall with  good roots.

• Plant tomatoes when the weather has warmed and the soil temperature is above 60 degrees. When planting, bury the entire root system and at least 1⁄2 inch of the stem. Planting in the evening or during  cloud cover will help to reduce plant wilt.

• Prepare a starter solution by dissolving two tablespoons of 10-20-10 fertilizer in one gallon of water.

• Water in each plant with two cups of the starter solution.

• Place a tomato cage around each plant.

• After the plants have become established, about two weeks, place a 2- to 3-inch layer of mulch, such as straw, around each plant.

• Keep plants evenly watered throughout the growing season.

For complete details about growing tomatoes refer to the Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service website and search Fact Sheet HLA-6012.

Vaverka is a member of Garfield County Master Gardeners.