How to Grow Tomatoes in Oklahoma
Oklahoma's long, warm summers are ideal for growing tomatoes. Many tomato varieties are suitable for Oklahoma; consider growing cherry tomatoes for fresh eating, beefsteak tomatoes for sandwiches and roma types for sauces and salsas. According to Oklahoma State University, plant three to five plants per person if you want tomatoes solely for fresh eating. If you plan to can tomatoes, plant five to 10 plants per person.
Prepare the planting site. Select a location that receives at least eight hours of sunlight per day and is close to a water source. Avoid areas close to trees and shrubs if possible.
Clear all debris and weeds from your chosen site. Lay 2 inches of manure or compost on the soil. Hand-broadcast 1 to 2 lb. of 10-20-10 granular fertilizer on the soil, per 100 square feet of garden area, according to Oklahoma State University. Till the soil to a depth of 6 inches with a shovel or rototiller. Add lime or sulfur at this time, as well, if recommended by a soil test analysis to raise or lower the pH level of the soil.
- Prepare the planting site.
- Lay 2 inches of manure or compost on the soil.
Buy tomato plants from reputable nurseries. Choose stocky, dark-green plants that stand 6 to 8 inches tall. Avoid those that are yellow or leggy. Fusarium wilt and nematodes are a problem throughout Oklahoma, so look for plants labeled disease-resistant, such as Small Fry, Better Boy or Roma.
Plant tomatoes after all chance of frost has passed and the soil is 60 degrees Fahrenheit. In southern Oklahoma, plant tomatoes after April 5; in northern Oklahoma, plant them after April 25, according to Oklahoma State University. Consult your local county extension office for the recommended time for your area, since variables such as altitude and wind may influence planting times.
- Buy tomato plants from reputable nurseries.
- Fusarium wilt and nematodes are a problem throughout Oklahoma, so look for plants labeled disease-resistant, such as Small Fry, Better Boy or Roma.
Water the tomatoes to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy. When temperatures soar in Oklahoma, water tomatoes at least once or twice per week. Allowing them to dry out diminishes yields, while watering them until they are soggy contributes to blossom end rot.
Sprinkle 2 tbsp. 10-20-10 granular fertilizer on the soil around the base of the plant three weeks after the first fruits appear. Lightly cultivate the soil to mix the fertilizer, but don't dig deeply because you'll damage the tomato plant's roots. Don't apply fertilizer directly to the plant.
- Water the tomatoes to keep the soil evenly moist, but not soggy.
- Lightly cultivate the soil to mix the fertilizer, but don't dig deeply because you'll damage the tomato plant's roots.
Harvest tomatoes when they are pink or orange and allow them to sit in a cool place for several days to ripen. Lightly turn the tomatoes to pluck them off the stems. When frosts are imminent, pick the green tomatoes and wrap them individually in newspaper. Store the ripening tomatoes in a cool, dark place and check them frequently.
- Contact your local Oklahoma State University Extension office for information on how to conduct a soil test. The extension office will provide you with a kit to obtain a soil sample. After sending the sample to the office's lab, you'll receive a detailed soil analysis that provides information on the nutrient and pH level of your soil and offers recommendations for improving your soil.
- Tomatoes grow in a variety of soils, although they prefer a deep, well-drained soil with a pH of 6.5 (slightly acidic). Consider raised beds if you have heavy, clay soil.
- Caging or training tomatoes to a stake keeps them tidy and may prevent some soil-borne diseases.
- Mulch tomatoes with 2 to 3 inches of compost, untreated grass clippings or straw to minimize weed growth and conserve moisture.
- Monitor tomatoes for signs of disease and pests and consult a local county extension office to identify the problem and offer solutions. Diseases and insect pests vary considerably, but several simple management tips may prevent problems:
- Rotate crops from year to year.
- Use drip irrigation, rather than overhead sprinklers. Wet leaves spread disease.
- Don't work in a wet garden.
- Remove dead or diseased leaves promptly.
- Use pesticides judiciously. Most pesticides kill beneficial insects, as well as pests. These beneficial insects, such as ladybugs and lacewings, eat aphids and other pests.
Julie Christensen is a food writer, caterer, and mom-chef. She's the creator of MarmaladeMom.org, dedicated to family fun and delicious food, and released a book titled "More Than Pot Roast: Fast, Fresh Slow Cooker Recipes."