New to Vegetable Gardening - Tomato Questions

JenTiffanyMarch 11, 2012

I searched the forum for answers but didn't find anything specific. I apologize if I missed it.

First off, I'm still a novice at gardening in general. I bought one Better Bush tomato plant and a tray of four Heirloom Marglobe seedlings. I'm so excited about them but I want to make sure I do this right. I have the Better Bush in a large pot of organic potting mix meant for edible plants (don't remember what brand it was). I mixed in a little fertilizer when I potted it and two weeks later it's looking wonderful. The heirlooms I just bought today. Here are my questions:

I understand the difference between heirloom and hybrid, and determinate vs indeterminate, which is why I wanted to try growing both kinds. I can't seem to find very clear information about determinate varieties. Something I read led me to believe that once there is a flower cluster, the plant will stop growing altogether. This can't be, can it? It's only about 8 inches tall but it already has a flower cluster and a couple of tiny tomatoes starting to grow. Any information on what to expect with a determinate variety, I would appreciate. (And be specific please, I'm really confused with everything I've read).

Here's my next question. I plan on planting the heirloom tomatoes in the garden and leave the hybrid in the pot on the patio. Both areas get lots of good sunlight. I have a decent size for a starter garden, about 5' by 8'. It's a raised bed made with decorative brick. I built it on top of some black weed blocker stuff that comes on a roll. I haven't filled it with soil yet and today I noticed something that might be a problem. I know how crucial drainage is, and the weed blocker holds water BAD. Do I need to take it out? I'm not worried about weeds so much but the bricks don't fit together very tight so a little bit of dirt will wash out from between them . I put it down and around the sides, with the edges folded under the top layer of bricks. It covers the whole bottom of the bed, which is about a foot tall. Is that tall enough that I won't need to worry about it when there's dirt in it? Or should I cut out the bottom and just leave some around the sides? I want to get it right before I fill it with soil and plants. I have no experience at all. Also, are there any places to get enough good soil to fill that that won't cost an arm and a leg?

One more question. My house faces the east so the back yard and patio where I do my gardening faces the west. In the summer it gets all that super hot evening sun. I tried gladiolas last year in the flower bed up against the house and they died off quickly once the weather got hot. They had barely even begun to flower. Being so close to that brick, they just baked until they died. Is there any kind of vegetable that would do well in a setting like that? The bed I was planning on putting the tomatoes in is off the edge of the patio away from the house. Will they withstand heat like we get here in Oklahoma? Or should they be someplace where they get a little shade that time of day? Again, as much as you can tell me, I would greatly appreciate. Thank you! - Jennifer

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Determinate plants will grow to a 'determined' height and produce all of there fruit in a very short timeframe. They are especially good for commercial field growers, or home canners that want everything to ripen at once so they have all of the crop to preserve at one time. I don't know much about Marglobe except that it has a lot of following and is said to be resistant to several problems. Most of the determinates I have grown produce fruit for 3-4 weeks. I usually just pull them when they stop, but a few will produce again in fall I think, but I don't have the space to leave a non-producing plant in my garden. According to another site on line, Marglobe is a semi-determinate.

An indeterminate plant is a vine and will continue to grow in length as long as the plant is healthy. Some will make it until killed by frost. Many of the vines that produce large fruit will take a little summer vacation, and not set fruit until the Oklahoma summer heat has subsided.

Determinates are usually good choices for a container, where indeterminates can be grown in a VERY large container, but usually produce more when planted in the ground.

My house has the same (approximate) orientation as yours but I have some shading. If it gets too hot this summer, you can always put up a screen of some sort to give them some shade for part of the day.

Some outside walls collect a lot of heat during the day. I wouldn't attempt to grow anything near the wall on the west side of my house, but I do have things growing near the house on the south side.

I don't grow gladiolus because I have always considered them to be for temperate climates. Someone else will have to answer that part of your questions.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 10:29PM
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Oh, I forgot the weed block questions. Many plants send roots down deep. I don't like weed block in any bed and the only reason I have it is to put under containers that I am going to having on a grassy area and I don't want the grass to grow up into the pot. If there is grass under that weed block, you may end up with a real mess. If it is holding water, then you have created a pond and that will be too wet for plants. I would remove the grass if I could, then put down several layers of cardboard and add the soil on top of the cardboard. It will breakdown, but hopefully will smother out the weeds first, and the worms love the cardboard.

    Bookmark   March 11, 2012 at 11:25PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Hi Jennifer,

Welcome to the Oklahoma Form and welcome to the wonderful world of growing tomatoes and other wonderful plants.

Determinates don't stop growing when the first flower cluster forms. Their growth is genetically determined and most of them reach abot 4' in height in our climate. Their growth stops when the top blossom cluster at the top of the plant sets fruit. This feature is known as self-topping. Once they self-top, their energy goes into enlarging and ripening all the fruit that has set by that point. Depending on the variety, if you leave it alone and keep it fed and well-watered, you may see another round or two of fruitset later on after you've harvested all of that first harvest. If the early blossoms bothers you, you can remove them. New ones will form within a few days to weeks. There are arguments both for leaving the first flowers (earlier fruit) and for removing them (so the plant's energy goes into the growth and development of the plant first, enabling it to likely produce more fruit later). I plant some determinates solely for early fruit so I don't pinch their early blossoms off. In a year with weather like we're having right now, tomatoes are going to want to flower early because the air temperatures are already in the right range for fruit set in much of the state. So, everyone will have to decide whether to pinch off blossoms or not. I generally don't. Once the really hot weather arrives, it interferes with fruitset on large-fruited plants, so I feel like the more fruit that sets on those plants before those temps arrive, the better.

I've also found over the years that all determinate varieties do not behave/produce the same. Some are very vigorous and will produce repeat crops. And, with all the breeding advances, we now see a blurring between determinate and indeterminate types with some types being known as semi-determinates and others that are very similar to them known as ISI (Indeterminate Short Internode). We're also seeing the development of dwarf and trailing types made specifically for containers and for hanging baskets. Tomatoes have become much more complicated than just determinate or indeterminate.

For years I was puzzled by the general (and oversimplified) description of determinates that said they "produce their entire crop at once" because I found that while that was true of some of the determinate varieties, it wasn't true of all of them. Finally, I found a description on Tom Clothier's website that matched what I was observing so at least I knew I wasn't imagining things. I've linked it below.

The bigger the pot, the better the production. You can grow determinates in 5-gallon pots, but 10-gallons is better. I usually grow indeterminates in 20-gallon or larger pots.

Weed block fabric has a place in this world, but that place generally is not the bottom of a bed. In order for weed block fabric to work effectively, the gardener must remove weeds that sprout in the mulch on top of the fabric. If the gardener does not remove those weeds, they will grow down through the weed block (it is meant to slow down weeds, not completely prevent them). So, your tomato plants will put roots down through the weed block, and then when you try to remove them at the end of the season, you'll have a real mess.

Also, if you did not scrupulously remove every bit of grass and weeds, including the roots, before you put down the weed block fabric, some of them will grow upward through the weedblock fabric and come up through your new raised bed. Because their roots will be down below the weedblock fabric, you will not be able to remove them. My suggestion is that you remove the weedblock fabric and replace it with 2 to 4 layers of heavy cardboard. The cardboard will smother whatever tries to grow up from underneath it but at the same time, it will decompose and enrich your soil. Earthworms are very attracted to cardboard and as they eat it, they excrete earthworm castings which further enrich your soil.

If your weedblock is a shiny plastic, I wouldn't use it for anything except maybe in a path way underneath mulch. If it is more like a woven cloth, as many of the best ones are, you can put in on top of the bed and cut holes in it, planting the tomatoes in those holes. If it is one of those weedblock products with millions of little perforations to allow moisture through, they generally are worthless since every weed seed in the world will sprout and grow upward through those tiny holes. I bought and used that stuff our first year here and it was useless.

Look in your yellow pages for bulk soil suppliers. I don't know where you are located in Oklahoma, but if you are near decent-sized cities, especially in central and NE OK, there will be many bulk suppliers to choose from. Be sure you specify you are looking for a rich, loamy mix for growing vegetables. Some unscrupulous suppliers will try to convince people that what they sell is "sandy loam" when it is almost pure sand. Look at what they have before you agree to buy it and make sure it doesn't look like beach sand or river sand. It should have some organic matter in it. When we lived in Texas, I used to buy a 50/50 mix of top soil/compost that was wonderful. However, the top soil portion of it was pretty sandy and I think it would have drained almost too well had I put it into raised beds alone. However, since I was mixing it with the native clay, it worked fine, draining well but also retaining moisture well. If buying from a bulk supplier, it works to your advantage if you have a pickup truck or some sort of trailer (or a friend who will loan you theirs) to haul home the load of soil because the delivery cost will make even bulk material fairly high in cost.

When I build raised beds, I remove all the existing vegetation and rototill 6 to 8" of organic matter (compost, pine bark fines, manure, chopped/shredded leaves, etc.) into the existing red clay soil. Otherwise, I've built a very fast-draining raised bed on top of clay that doesn't drain well at all. Since plant roots grow deeper than the height of my raised beds, most of my plant roots are growing in the same soil in the raised bed portion of the bed as they are in the below-grade-level portion of the bed. Of course, at a point they go deeper than the improved clay and hit the unimproved clay, but in the beds where I raise tomatoes, I've double dug and improved the grade level (down two shovel depths below grade) and the raised beds are one shovel's depth above grade level, so the plants have a lot of improved soil before they hit clay. You certainly don't have to double or triple dig if you don't want to, and I did not do it in the beginning because the clay was too dense and broke shovels, digging forks, etc. So, I waited for it to improve some and then dug down deeper every year. What I am saying is that the soil you're starting with now is not the soil you'll end up with eventually. It will improve every year as long as you keep adding organic matter to it.

West-facing walls will roast many plants, particularly annual plants. On southwest and west-facing walls, I like to put a trellis with a vine. There are plenty of annual vines that tolerate western walls, including morning glories and moonflower vines. In front of the vines I can plant anything heat-tolerant that I want, because the vines are blocking that wall and reducing the reflected heat. Some of my favorites for western walls are cannas, salvias (especially Texas hummingbird sage), zinnias, verbena bonariensis (tall verbena), globe amaranth, and celosias/cockscombs of all kinds. They all thrive in heat. If you have well-draining soils, lantanas will do well near a western wall. Even if you cannot put up a trellis and grow a vine to block the wall, any of the flowers I listed will tolerate a hot, western exposure pretty well. If you happen to have well-draining sandy soil, there are many native wildflowers and grasses that would be great for that location. If you want to grow edibles on that west wall, you could plant pole beans or long beans like Chinese Red Noodle and let that climb a trellis placed a foot from the wall. Then, in front of it you could grow other heat lovers like okra or southern peas, and probably tomatoes, eggplants and peppers.

Last year was an extra-hot year so it was extra-tough on gladiolas and everything else too, including people and animals. I love glads but they will wither pretty quickly when the weather gets hot, so I plant them in the east-facing beds by the front porch or in the veggie garden where I mix together veggies, herbs, flowers and fruit, and use more heat-tolerant plants in the hotter west-facing backyard. Glads only bloom for a few weeks anyway so I don't plant many. Most of the flowers I plant bloom for months, and glads just cannot match that in terms of longevity.

By the way, high-quality weed-block fabric does allow water penetration even though it will seem like the water is sitting on top of it. If you have black plastic weedblock that looks very similar to the plastic that trash bags are made from, it will not allow much water penetration at all--only through the holes you cut to plant your plants. You need to have mulch on top of the fabric to help retain the moisture so it can percolate through the mulch and down through the fabric. If your raised bed has a slight slope to it, the mulch will help hold the water so it doesn't bead up and run off too quickly.

Tomatoes will tolerate a lot of heat, but I think they are happier without extreme heat all day long. For several years I grew tomato plants in large containers placed on the concrete apron outside our detached garage. They faced south, but had plenty of western sun. They did just fine. Then I moved them off the concrete in a hot, dry year and put them on top of the ground in the back yard (with layers of cardboard covered with grass clippings underneath them) and they performed so much better away from that concrete and south-facing wall. Nowadays, I leave them on the concrete until about the end of May because they benefit from the increased heat and warmth early in the season, and then I move the containers (and it isn't easy 'cause they are heavy) to the grassy area before the real summer heat arrives.

In periods of extreme heat like we had last year, I will erect shade cloth over some of the tomato plants in June when the temps are hitting 100 and higher. It blocks some of the sunlight and heat and keeps them happier longer and producing longer. I also have played around with moving the containers around in various years and have found I got great production even when the container-grown tomatoes only received direct sunlight from 11 a.m. to about 5. p.m. and had dappled sunlight after that. Because our climate is so hot in the summer months, tomato plants usually produce well here on only 6-8 hours of sun. They don't need to have direct sun from sunrise to sunset.

Hope this helps,


Here is a link that might be useful: Determinates and Indeterminates/Tom Clothier

    Bookmark   March 12, 2012 at 9:32AM
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tulsastorm(z6 Tulsa OK)

I really like Glad flowers, but I gave up on them. I planted bulbs in a partly sunny area for a few years, and they came up. Unfortunately, nearly every time they send out a flower stem, the wind would break it off. Even the low-growing variety. I think I read that if they don't flower successfully, then chances are slim they will come up the next year. I grew tired of wasting my time and money planting them with lackluster results.

    Bookmark   March 14, 2012 at 8:59AM
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Wow! Thanks for the replies! That was immensely helpful!!! Sorry it took so long for me to get back to you. Well, the Better Bush tomato plant is doing very well, aside from the constant battle against fungus gnats. So far, they're still losing even though they won't give up! Ha! I picked a great year to go all out with this gardening thing. :) At the very least, I should get a decent lesson in pest control.

I spent all day one Saturday shoveling soil around to cut the bottom out of the weed block and till underneath it and layer with cardboard. Then I added some cotton burr compost (which I'm thinking now wasn't all that great. It has a TON of sticks and doesn't even look like it was composted very much). Last year I bought a composter (the black tumbler kind) and started by trying to add enough "green" stuff to compost a bit of the wood chips from the tree stump we ground out of the front yard. I'm thinking now that wasn't such a good idea. I read that wood will hold all the nitrogen and not allow it to be used by the plants in the garden. But eventually, wood will break down, even if it is slower than molasses. Am I right? So sooner or later I should get ahead if I keep adding to it. I thought I would have some nice compost for the flower bed last year but it's taking forever. After turning it yesterday though, it is starting to look a LOT darker. Good sign!

I planted 4 summer squash. I only have one left now thanks to all the critters. I'm so new at this that it took some time for me to do some research and figure out what kind of stuff I wanted to use to get rid of them. Started with diatomaceous earth which didn't seem to really do anything, and then insecticidal soap which really helps even though I have to spray it often since we've been getting regular rain and very dewy mornings. I also planted one bell pepper plant that appears to be thriving. It's grown quite a bit and looks green and perky and is already working on it's first flower set. Yay! The four Marglobe tomato plants I planted have grown some, but not as much as I would have thought. Maybe I just look at them too much and I don't realize how much they're growing. Also, my expectations could be way off since it's my first time. Since I lost 3 of the summer squash plants, I bought some banana peppers, cayenne peppers and red chilies to fill in that space. They are doing fine so far except one cayenne plant mysteriously detached itself from the stem at soil level and and landed a few inches away. *shrug*

Well, I'm quite pleased with the Better Bush so far. The first fruit set is getting rather large and it's working on new flowers as we speak. I don't know how big they get, but I expect it won't be too much longer until harvest on that one. (Exciting!!!)

So, if you don't mind me throwing this question in here, why isn't my summer squash growing? I started it from seed indoors in late February. I think now that the peat pot was too small for it but it's been outside in the new garden for about 3 weeks now. I don't think it's grown a bit. The first set of leaves (I don't know what they're called, but they're not true leaves) turned yellow, then brown and shriveled. I pinched them off. It has only one other set of leaves, with another set starting to show in the middle. It's been this size literally the entire time I've had it outside. Almost the entire thing is yellow now, the stem feels stiff, like if I try to flex it, it will snap like the others did when the pests got to them (but the others literally were tunneled out through the stem). So what's the deal? I have done one light application of seaweed fertilizer about a week ago. No improvement. We've gotten enough rain lately that my soil is staying pretty wet. The rich mix I got at Minnick Materials has a ton of sand in it and I know that's supposed to make it drain well, but it seems to do the opposite. I can dig down under the few inches of top soil I laid, and find clumps of wet sandy mush. It's not totally like that though. I haven't watered in about 3 days because I was worried about it being too wet. And with a chance for thunderstorms for the next week, I figured I'd hold off.

One more thing (sorry for my ignorance). I was at Organics OKC the other day and they were telling me how bad city water is but they didn't really say why it was bad or what it would do to the garden. Since then, I've let my watering can sit full over night to let the chlorine and such evaporate. Hopefully that will be helpful. It's just frustrating me because I was really looking forward to some yummy yellow squash here soon. I started another one from seed sown straight into the bed so we'll see how that goes. As always, any suggestions or insight would be much appreciated!

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 6:47PM
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I think a lot of folks here have just recently planted their squash seed or put out their squash plants. Squash is a warm weather plant and won't do much, as I understand it, until the soil is quite warm. It's a little early for them to really take off. As soon as we start getting consistently warm temps, the squash should really start growing.

Correct me, guys, if this is wrong info.


    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 10:00PM
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Squash is a warm season plant as Susan said. I planted a little early and as soon as I saw germination I covered mine with Agribon. We have had several nights in the 40's and it hasn't harmed them, but the cover adds some protection as well. I think some plants don't look like they are growing after transplanting, but it is because the roots need to get established first before they add any top growth. I normally just direct sow squash seed. Mine still don't have true leaves, but the seed leaves are increasing in size everyday, and they look healthy. When your squash does start growing, it will probably grow very fast.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 10:21PM
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So you think it's okay still? What about it turning yellow? It was nice and green when I had it inside under the grow light?. I put the seedlings outside in the sunshine every chance I got while we had the warm sunny weather in March and the squash started taking off. Maybe it's just the cooler nights that we've been having mixed with the wet soil. Hopefully that's all it is and it can hold out a little longer. I might sow a seed right next to it that way if this one dies, i'll have another started. I'm anxious for a crop and I don't want to waste any time, if you can't tell. Haha.

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 10:48PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Fungus gnats are an indication soil is too wet. If it is wet from rainfall, there's not a lot you can do but wait for the soil to dry. If the soil is wet from constant watering, cut back on the watering and the gnats will go away once the soil is staying drier.

Wood will tie up some nitrogen if the wood is mixed in with the soil, but certainly not all of it. Watch your plants and, if you see signs of nitrogen deficiency, just feed them a fertilizer somewhat high in nitrogen. In our heat and if it is a wet year, the pieces of wood in the cotton burr compost will break down more quickly than you think. There is a saying "heat eats compost" because intense heat makes material decompose more quickly. Just think of your sticks as big pieces of not-yet-finished compost. In the future, you can screen them out using a compost screen. You can make your own from 1/4" hardware cloth or from any other kind of fencing or netting with smallish openings.

You can start more summer squash from seed sown directly in the ground. You can do it any time between now and August and it will sprout and give you plants and then squash. You will have to watch for cutworms, squash bugs, stink bugs and squash vine borers among other things. We all have to watch for them and do the best we can to keep them away from our plants.

Tomato plant growth may seem slow at first and that likely is because the young plants are busy making roots underground. Plants are smart. If we leave them alone and do not overfeed them nitrogen, they grow the bigger root system first and then, once they have the roots in place to support rapid growth of the above-ground portion of the plant, they will grow like crazy. This is the way it is supposed to work. You can circumvent their natural growth by "forcing" them to make a lot of top growth by feeding them too much nitrogen. They'll grow like crazy and then you'll have problems develop because the top growth is more than the roots can support. So, just be patient and let them grow at the rate that is right for them in the circumstances in which they are growing. Once their root system is large enough and the weather conditions, both day and night, are warm enough, the plants will enter a rapid growth period during which they can gain as much as an inch a day in height. Usually this occurs in May. It might happen earlier in some parts of the state this year depending on when those plants went into the ground and when the air and soil temperatures hit the perfect range.

The cayenne pepper likely fell prey to a mockingbird. When I find a plant neatly snipped off at the ground, if the plant itself is lying on the ground, a bird (usually a mockingbird) is the culprit. I don't know why they do it, but I know that they do. If the plant is snipped off but all or most of the young plant is gone, it could have been a cutworm. If the plant, roots and all, was yanked up out of the ground, that likely was a deer trying to browse on a young plant that wasn't yet firmly rooted into the ground. Then the deer became startled and ran off, dropping the plant onto the ground.

With Better Bush, the average days-to-maturity for a ripe tomato is about 68-69 days from the time the plant was transplanted.

Unless you're in an area with pretty warm soil temperatures, your soil likely has been too cool for summer squash, or at least it was at the time the squash was planted. Summer squash needs soil temperatures at or above 60 degrees combined with air temperatures at or above 65 degrees and it doesn't care for real cool nights although it will tolerate cool nights to some degree. If you put transplants into the ground too early, they just sit there and stall and don't grow. Often they remain stunted for a long time after that.
Other reasons summer squash seedlings would remain small for a prolonged period of time would include highly acidic soil with a pH below 5.5, low soil fertility, or dry soil. Squash needs soil that drains well and will perform better in a raised bed raised several inches above grade level if you have soil that drains slowly. If the soil is wet several inches down, don't water. I set out squash about 7-10 days ago in a raised bed and only gave it just enough water to settle the soil in around the transplant. Then it rained an inch. I shouldn't have to water the squash for weeks and weeks yet because we've had a lot of rain since September. I don't think my ground has gotten really dry since September or October. Plants will grow in drier soil than most people imagine. The yellowing of your squash leaves could indicate various kinds of stress---too wet, too dry, some sort of pest, etc. If the new leaves are a nice green color as they open up, then I wouldn't worry. Check the undersides of the leaves that are yellow and see if you see red spider mites (they look like tiny red dots) or aphids, which are small (though a lot larger than spider mites) and have an oval shape and come in a wide variety of colors.

If you know who your water supplier is, whether it is the city water company in your city, or a private water company, or a water co-op, go to their website and view their water testing data. It should be posted there, or there should be a link to it. If anything is really wrong with the water, you should be able to figure it out via the testing data.

I don't know anything at all about water in any county other than my own, and our water is highly alkaline, which isn't great but also isn't the worst thing on earth. It is always a great idea, though, to have a rain barrel to catch rainwater and use it. I think it is better for plants than city water whenever you are able to catch it and use it. My plants always seem to grow better when I water them with rain water.

You're kind of in a big hurry to get a harvest, and believe me, I understand. However, for most of us in a normal year, April 10th is the earliest date to begin planting any warm-season crops, other than sweet corn, which can be planted around March 23 for SE OK and a bit later the further north or northwest you go. So, today is the day you "can" start planting in a normal year. If you planted squash today, when could you start harvesting? Around mid- to late-May under the absolute best possible circumstances.

So, given what I just said about planting dates, can you get an earlier harvest by planting earlier? Yes, with some edible crops, but not with others. Just because squash, for example, might tolerate being planted into soil that is 5-10 degrees too cold for it, that doesn't mean it will grow well or produce early. Tomatoes and sweet corn will tolerate being planted pretty early as long as they don't freeze and die. Some plants, though, like peppers, okra, summer squash, winter squash, melons and southern peas (black-eyed peas, purple hull pink eye peas, cream peas, lady peas, etc.) do not appreciate being planted in either soil or air temps that are too cold for them and often will just sit there and pout and wait for the soil and/or air temperatures to warm up.

So, try being a little more patient. Even though we have had warmer-than-average weather for weeks, that does not necessarily impress the plants. The soil temps do not warm up as quickly as the air temps do, and it is the soil temps that influence plant growth more at this stage. If the roots are cold at night, the plants won't grow much.

If you don't know your soil temperatures, you can look at them on the OK Mesonet map below. I've linked the 3-day average at 4" beneath bare soil. Your actual soil temps can be higher or lower than those at the mesonet station or stations nearest you. I check my own soil temps with an ordinary meat thermometer with a metal probe.

In general, in our climate, nothing planted this year would be producing much for harvest yet except for maybe radishes or green onions (scallions) that were planted in Jan., Feb. or March, or lettuce and other greens planted in February or maybe Sugar Snap Peas that were planted in late February. (My peas are just now starting to bloom so the first peas are still a few days away.) All of those are cool-season crops. No one would be harvesting any sort of warm-season crop yet, even in the warmest parts of Oklahoma and even with very early planting unless they have been growing in high tunnels or in low tunnels with very good luck. Patience, patience, patience. If you do not already have a great amount of patience, gardening will teach you to develop some.

I am in extreme south-central Oklahoma in zone 7b and I plant as early as I can based on soil and air temps and I don't harvest many warm-season crops until mid- to late-May at the very earliest. I will get a random ripe tomato here or there from plants transplanted into containers in late February and protected from cold nights by frost blankets. I might get green beans sometime in May in a year when the last frost was in March. I usually get early sweet corn right around Memorial Day weekend from seed sown in mid-March and only because I use a smallish corn plant that produces very early (Early Sunglow). I might get summer squash in late May if I put plants into the ground in warm-enough weather in late March or early April. I am so far south that Texas lies to my east, south and west. Unless you're as far south as I am, you wouldn't get a harvest of any warm season crop until a week or so after I do assuming we planted around the same time because the further north you are, the cooler the nights and soil temps tend to stay later into spring. So, try to remember that it is just now really the time to plant warm-season crops in an average year (we have been able to plant a bit earlier than usual this year) and you shouldn't be expecting a harvest at what is, in reality, planting time.

So, slow down your harvest expectations a little. You could be harvesting squash soon....if you were in zone 8 Dallas-Fort Worth, perhaps, but not in central OK. : )

Gardens are like watched pots....a watched pot never boils. Try ignoring the garden a little more and see if it will throw some surprises your way.

It is when I am busy with 1,001 different yard and garden chores like mowing, weed-eating, pruning, mulching, etc. and barely paying any attention to the veggies at all that I will suddenly realize a tomato is almost ripe or that there's a summer squash that's large enough to harvest or I'll see that the sweet corn is tasseling or silking. It always surprises me because it happens when I least expect it. I guarantee you that if I am eagerly watching the garden for some sign of a harvestable veggie, that's exactly when nothing happens. I have to get busy and forget about it, and then the harvest suddens seems to just magically appear.


Here is a link that might be useful: Three-Day Ave Soil Temp 4

    Bookmark   April 10, 2012 at 11:03PM
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I'm a flower gardener, not a veggie gardener, so I can answer on the glad question. :)

I have grown glads and I grow them in pretty much full sun. Mine do not live a long time, probably a couple of years at the most. I have to grow them through peony grids because they flop in my garden. If you cut flowers, they are wonderful for that, but you should be prepared to replant regularly. (and not expect the beautifully straight florist stems!)

Last year was a rough year for everything. It was so hot nothing did well, except maybe lantana! My roses are making up for it this year though. I have a nice show going on right now.


    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 11:30AM
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I will add my 2 cents. There has been some very good advice offered. Gardening where I do I have learned patience, have a better idea when to take a gamble and also I garden by reading the plants. I can't speak for any area other than my own. I have had volunteer summer(yellow straightneck)squash and cukes germinating for close to 3 weeks. I tilled under most of the squash Friday evening except for two I moved and transplanted. This time of year even as warm as it is and the soil temps here are running in the 60-70's I put a plastic coffee container or something similar around them. Not only for some warmth but also for wind protection. The two I moved already had their first true leaves when I moved them. I did water them in just to settle the soil. I put some straw inside the container and had only glanced at them till last night. They have grown 1-2 inches this week and adding another set of true leaves. When I start seeing volunteers appearing for a plant I know the soil temps are in the correct range. That doesn't mean the air temps are and if I want an earlier harvest I put a container around them and add a little straw inside. On a row crop I cover them with row cover. I removed the row cover from my potatoes this week. I will put it back if a severe freeze threatens. They were really growing and needed dirt put around them. If I want a crop of some crops here I have to "cheat" some or it will be too hot by the time the early morning air temps warm up on a consistent basis. But with a little protection I can gain 2-4 weeks depending on the year and the crop. I was surprised by how well my squash was growing even before I gave it some protection. I will sow cukes this week along with some beans.

When I feed the plants I start inside or transplants I use a feed with a high P number which is the middle number of a N-P-K feed. Many call that type of feed a blooming/rooting feed. I use it too develop the root system. When using that type you also need to pot up when needed or a plant can become root bound.

There are 2 crops I never hurry or plant early. And that is chile peppers and okra. They are too easy to stunt and many times never fully recover. Most of the rest I will gamble with some with the thought that if I lose them or stunt them too severly I can always plant again. Anytime I plant early I accept the risks and hope for the rewards. Jay

    Bookmark   April 11, 2012 at 2:36PM
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I did a search for cutworms because 2 of my tomato plants have been cut off at the base and are laying on the ground, so that's what I suspected. But the plants weren't eaten, so it is more likely that birds did it? I would have never suspected that was done by birds! We do have a LOT of mockingbirds around here.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 6:01PM
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I haven't had any plants pulled up but I did have a strange occurence, which makes me mad at myself. One day when I planted tomatoes, I planted five cherries and 5 others. I knew how I planted the cherries, Sungold, Black Cherry, SG, BC, SG, but then I planted a variety in the next row. I planted, mulched, and caged them that day, and left the markers which were just popsicle sticks, with the intention of putting real labels on them the next morning. It rained, so it was the second day before I went out to label them and there was not one stick left. I dug around the mulch, even took the cage off one and uncovered everything, but could not find one stick on those five (all the cherry sticks were still there). Since I started 26, they could be most anything. Well, I know they aren't cherries or currants so that narrows it down to 20. I am mad at myself, but Al says, "Hey, they are tomatoes, and we just going to eat them." Maybe when I see them I will know what they are, maybe not.

    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 7:06PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


It likely is mockingbirds. I don't know why they do it, but they do. Cutworms usually eat the plants. We have a lot of mockingbirds around here too, and one of them follows me around, singing, all day long...from the garden to the barn to the shed and back to the garden again. He especially likes to sit on the apparently-not-so-scary Scarecrow and sing in the early morning hours. He's fine if I don't look at him (or her). If I look directly at the bird, it flies up into a tree.

Carol, Well, every tomato from those 5 plants may be a surprise this year or a mystery. I bet you'll be able to figure out from fruit size, shape, color and DTM just which one is which.


    Bookmark   April 19, 2012 at 8:12PM
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pam_chesbay(VA 8a/7b)

Great advice! Ya'll are great!

I'm tailgating on your answers to Jennifer - and I'm about 1,00 miles away (but similar, challenging growing conditions).

In a nutshell: You don't know what lemons will be served up this year but you need to learn how to turn them into lemonade. Here are a few ways to do that.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:12AM
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Thanks for the info. I really thought the only damage to be concerned about from birds was from them eating the fruit. Some days I feel like Alice ..... things are curiouser and curiouser :).

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 12:18PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Suzie, You're welcome. The more you grow (or, the longer you grow), the more you know. (grinning) You will see things occur in your garden that are just baffling, but eventually you figure them out, or someone else has the same issue and figures out and tells you, and then you say "Aha! That happened in our garden once.

I don't care how long anyone has gardened or how proficient they are, they're going to see things that make them scratch their head. The constant search for what is happening at any given time keeps all of us on our toes.

I don't know how my dad and his brothers and sisters gardened their entire lives without the internet to make it easy to figure out the root cause of problems or what to do about them. It must have been very frustrating.


    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 1:03PM
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I have a twelve inch tomato plant with a flower on it. I nipped it off and nipped all the others. Is it the weather or have I indirectly learned how to raise bonsai? (planting out too late).


    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 4:59PM
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As always, Dawn, excellent advice.

"If the roots are cold at night, the plants won't grow much."

It's been cool at night for a long time. This might be why my tomato plants are stunted.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:47PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

There's nothing wrong with a 12" tall tomato plant. They simply bloom when the age of the plant plus the weather are in the correct range, whether the plant is 8" tall or 8' tall.

It probably has as much to do with the age of the plant as the weather. For example, your typical 3-week-old tomato plant likely is not going to bloom no matter what the weather is doing, but your typical 8 to 12 week old plant might if the weather conditions were right. Just plant the poor thing in the ground if it isn't already there, and leave it alone. I never remove flowers because flowers = fruit. Here in Oklahoma, the temperatures that get "too hot" for tomato fruit set to occur can arrive as early as May some years (as they did at my house last year) and the window of opportunity for fruit set to occur can be very narrow.

Most years, those specific temps don't arrive until at least June (probably earlier in SW OK), but they can arrive in May. If you are nipping off flowers on plants now and the temps get too hot as of mid-May, you may regret every flower you nipped off.

It is a personal choice, but I hate removing prospective fruit. In a consistently cooler climate, you routinely do it to let the plant put its energy into getting bigger before it sets fruit. In our climate, it can backfire if the weather gets too hot too soon.

    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 5:50PM
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Okeez. That makes sense. I have plenty of them to go around. And if they aren't sufficient the neighbor gave me three more seedlings yesterday. What the hay! hahaha


    Bookmark   April 20, 2012 at 7:23PM
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