Master Gardener: Start tomato seedlings soon
BY BRIAN JERVIS Ask a Master Gardener
Saturday, February 09, 2013
2/09/13 at 7:07 AM
Q: I would like to grow some tomato sprouts to plant in spring. How do I do this, and when is the best time to plant? Lee, ClaremoreA:
The classic answer to the "when" part of this question is to plant tomato seeds on Valentine's Day and transplant the sprouts into the garden after Easter. However, all of this timing is dependent on the temperatures in the spring. There is always a group of tomato-growing enthusiasts who consider it a badge of honor to risk planting early to produce the first red tomato on the block.
To grow your own sprouts, first decide on varieties to plant and obtain the seeds, available either online or at most garden centers. Sow the seeds six to eight weeks before you anticipate planting them in the garden bed.
Plant the seeds in sterile potting mix such as vermiculite or pasteurized commercial potting soil. Keep them moist and place in a south window with a temperature above 45 but below 80 degrees. Rotate the containers regularly, and when they develop true leaves, transplant into small individual pots or a larger tray about 2 inches apart.
While growing, it is good to either turn on a fan for five to 10 minutes or to brush the tops of the plants gently twice daily. This movement strengthens the stems and makes a healthier plant. After about six weeks, the plants should be 6-8 inches tall and ready for the garden.
Tomatoes, like many vegetables, do best in a slightly acidic soil that is well-drained and enriched with composted organic material such as leaf mold, peat moss or rotted manure. A balanced fertilizer should be tilled into the bed, as well - but don't adopt the "more is better" approach. The bed should have full sun, be close to a water source to receive 1-2 inches of water per week.
Set the sprouts into the garden when the soil temperature is above 60 degrees. This information is available online through Oklahoma Mesonet at tulsaworld.com/soiltemp Many enthusiasts plant very early and shield the tops from cold using various protective devices. However, even though they protect the top, early growth will not occur if the soil is cold. Tomato roots don't grow in cold soil.
To get a head start on the growing season, warm the soil beforehand. Place clear or black plastic over the bed two to three weeks before planting, and the soil will warm a few degrees. This may be the needed edge for the "first tomato" contest.
OSU's "Growing Tomatoes in the Home Garden" fact sheet at tulsaworld.com/gardentomato has complete information on growing tomatoes.
If you have a garden-related question for the Master Gardeners to answer in a column, call 918-746-3701.
Original Print Headline: Start tomato seedlings soon
Early February through March is the recommended time to plant strawberries. It is important to plant them in full sun and in well-drained soil. There are several types to choose from. June-bearing varieties do best in our area. They have a single crop usually early May to mid-June.
Ever-bearing strawberry is another variety that fruits May to June, a few during summer and again in the fall. The quality and size of this type of strawberry plant may not be as good as June-bearing varieties.
For more information about plant selection, planting and care of strawberries in your garden, look at OSU's "Growing Strawberries in the Home Garden" fact sheet at tulsaworld.com/growstrawberries
A flat of Cherokee Purple tomato plants is ready for planting. To grow tomato plants for spring planting, it's best to plant seeds six to eight weeks before you want to put the plants in the garden. Some gardeners start seedlings on Valentine's Day and transplant them after Easter. BILL SEVIER/Courtesy