Tomatoes- Next weekend too soon?

momofsteelex3(7)April 4, 2013

So I just checked my county's average last freeze date, per OkieDawn's advice and it looks like its April 2nd. And temp averages look to be 76 during the day for the rest of the month and mid to lower 50's at night. Could I/Should I plant tomatoes, say next Saturday the 14th?

And then cucs, okra and peppers and green beans a couple of weeks later?

Still so much to learn about doing this all the right way instead of just throwing some plants in the ground in Mid-May and hoping for something to eat!

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Will you accept "probably" as an answer?

Since none of us has a crystal ball and cannot know what your 7-day or 10-day forecast will look like next Saturday, "probably" is the best I can do. However, when you look at your 7-day or 10-day forecast next week right before your target planting date, if there are no temperatures in the 30s, I say go for it and plant them. If you were asking me if I thought planting tomorrow would be okay, by the way, I'd give the same exact advice. Hint....hint....if next week looks great, temperature-wise, why not go ahead and plant them as soon as possible? If your soil temperatures seem a little low, give them about 48 hours to warm up after our cold night tonight, and they should be fine.

Before I decide to plant, I check the following data:

Soil temps.....need to be staying consistently at or above 50 degrees 24/7. I am pickier about this than I used to be. Some people aren't., and that's fine too. I understand why. What I have found is that if I put the plants in soil that is too cool for them, they sit there and sulk and don't do much anyway, so there's nothing to be gained from doing it. You can check your soil temperature using a soil thermometer, compost thermometer or a cooking thermometer with a metal probe. I check the soil temp at about 4" below ground when it is tomato planting time. Or, you can rely upon the three-day soil temperature measurements at the OKMesonet. I've linked that page below.

I could have planted my tomato plants last week and then would have had to worry about them making it through this week's cold temperatures. (Our lowest temperature so far this week has been 39 degrees.) Instead, they have stayed nice and warm indoors for the last two nights and will move inside in a few minutes for one more night indoors. I think they would have been fine this week if I had them in the ground, but I would have had to cover them up with floating row cover every night so that I could sleep....otherwise I would have tossed and turned all night, worried that the low temperature would drop lower than forecast.

In our hot climate, you want to transplant your tomato plants into the ground as early as possible after your average last frost date so the plants can grow and set fruit before the temperatures get too hot. However, you should know that when air temperatures are at or below 55 degrees, tomato plants often drop the blossoms without setting fruit anyway or the fruit that they do set will be catfaced (which doesn't affect their edibility but sure can hurt thei fruits' beauty). The safe recommendation is to wait two weeks past your average last frost date, but I have ignored that in warm winters and planted 2 or 3 weeks before my average last frost date, so take all the "rules" with a grain of salt. Some years you can break the rules and totally get away with it.

Last year was one of those years when early planting was a cinch. This year has been exactly the opposite, with a couple of really cold nights each week making us hold back and wait a little longer.

As for everything else, how about if I post a warm-season planting thread with the OSU-recommended planting dates in sequential order and that will be readily available and easy to find on its own thread by doing a forum search in the future.. I'll go type that one up as soon as I submit this one.

Generally, as soon as I put tomato plants in the ground, I do move right on to other veggies and try to get all of them into the ground as quickly as possible, except for the real heat-lovers like winter squash and watermelons that like more heat. I'll cover that on the warm-season planting date thread. With me, it is a decision based on soil and air temperatures more than dates.

I trust my gut feeling with regards to these things, but I believe that gut feeling comes from years of gardening in this location. My gut has been telling me that after tonight's cold weather passes, I can put tomato plants in the ground whenever I want. That doesn't mean I'll be out there doing it tomorrow, though, because we have had 2.7" of rain in the last 10 days or so and the soil is awfully wet. But....I likely will check the soil every morning and every afternoon and as soon as it looks a bit drier than it looks now, I'll start putting those plants in the ground.

I am keeping an eye on next week's mid-week cold front because it will drop some parts of OK down into some temperatures that are fairly cold for warm-season plants, but at my end of the state, we'll be alright unless the forecast changes drastically.

There's a threat of severe weather early next week, and in Oklahoma in April that oftens means hail, so anyone thinking of planting this weekend should keep that severe weather possibility in mind.


Here is a link that might be useful: Soil Temp 4

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 6:07PM
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I wont be ready by this weekend. I lose the evening sun because of a low mountain west of me, so my soil warm a little slower. Also I live in a valley and get frost when many others dont. There have been times when I would wait till the first week in May, I hope that this is not one of those years.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 7:01PM
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I just potted up my baby tomatoes on Monday, so feel like I should let them get a little settled in their new pots before even beginning to harden them off for planting out. Or can I harden and acclimate them to their new pots all at the same time? They are still very small, only a few sets of leaves.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 7:07PM
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I've got 163 tomatoes and 29 tomatillos planted, so far. During the warmup after our last bit of very cold temperatures I began planting. The last of this number went out Monday. A bit of a gamble I know. But I have a couple of hundred backup plants, at least, so after keeping a close eye on the 10 day forecast I went ahead and planted. They survived! At least as far as I can tell by looking at them today.

I wasn't about to post anything about it, because I knew I was taking a gamble and I did not want to lead anybody astray. Since I sell at a farmers market, if I can get produce (especially tomatoes) to market before most of the other sellers it can equate into a significant added profit. If I didn't have a lot of backup plants I would not have tried it.

In the ground so far is: Stupice, Super Sweet 100, Jet Star, Beefy Boy, Parks Whopper, Super Marzano, and Celebrity. I've got Better Boys also, but just have not planted them yet.

I don't mind getting Tomatoes in the ground a bit early, as long as they don't get killed by the cold temps. They'll sit and sulk a while, but will pull out of it when it gets warm again. I absolutely would not plant peppers at the same time as I planted these tomatoes. Cool temperatures can stunt peppers. I've made that mistake before and don't intend to do it again. So, the peppers are going to wait a bit longer.

I've got a very big garden with lots more things needing to be planted over the next few weeks. I have another unrelated business which also takes up my time. So, if I get the tomatoes out early, but it does not significantly hurt them, then it gives me more time later on for getting other things planted. Throw in wet weather, (yea for wet weather!) and time becomes an important factor. Farming/gardening is mostly about planting the right thing at the right time in the right way. Some times gambles turn out good, sometimes not so good. I was lucky this time.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 9:57PM
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ScottOkieman- Wow that's A LOT of tomato plants!! I am glad so far the weather is in your favor! I hope it stays that way!

slowpoke_gardener- See to me, May sounds right. But I'm not from around here. LOL

okiedawn- Probably is fine answer. I know no one has the magic answers. And OSU's guide says starting April 10th. I guess I just wanted someone to kick me in the rear and say its fine, this is how its done here, so don't procrastinate! We have also had a ton of rain, and are expecting more with chances of severe storms, so I am shooting for next weekend hoping it will be dried out enough by then to play in the dirt. I would have asked how to check the temp so I am glad you told me!

I am just trying to learn the Oklahoma way of gardening. And gardening for more then just a few tomato sandwiches. :)

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 10:21PM
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FYI, the early planting date is usually for southern ok, and the later is for northern ok. Here in okc, I usually shoot for the middle. Have had better luck with cherry tomatoes than full size, even in our challenging recent years.

    Bookmark   April 4, 2013 at 10:45PM
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HI All: A question to those who have planted tomatoes or are preparing to within next few days:

We are warming up very slowly here. NIghttime temps still running in high 30s, day-time temps in mid-40s. Forecast is for warmer temps beginning this wknd and next week, followed by more cold temps last week of April. We are having lots of cold wind out of the NNE and NW (20-25 knots with higher gusts right now).

I have about 80 tomato plants and 60-80 pepper plants with a similar number of back ups. Most tomato seedlings are still small (they have first set of true leaves but no size on them yet). The pepper plants are larger and more robust than the toms, even tho I planted seeds for both at same time. I usually wait until seedlings are bigger before transplanting.

Is this necessary if I use floating row cover?

I'm concerned that if I plant this wknd, but temps continue in low 50s over next 10-14 days, their growth will be stunted.

Second concern: like y'all, we are getting above average rain (yea!!). If I use floating row cover with these young fragile toms and peppers, should I use something (maybe old tomato cages) between the plants and the row cover to protect the seedlings from getting beaten down by heavy rain and high winds?

Spring is often wild here, but this year is wilder than usual. Lots of wind, cold wind out of northern quadrants. This year, all wind feels cold!

I think we've seen our last freeze, but the continuing cold temps and wind has led me to hesitate in planting toms and peppers until it warms up more.

Am I being overly cautious? Do you use supports between plants and row cover?


    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:47AM
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This is my first year monkeying with the fiber row cover. I am not going to be late two consecutive years. I also did the black plastic on the ground. temperature readings under black plastic are 70 in the evening and 50 in the morning. Now during the three rain days it finally go to 40 degrees. Next time i cover my cages i am going to try sewing them shut. i don't care for all the clothes pins. No peppers out yet, waiting for 60 degree soil temperature for 3 days.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 7:42AM
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I would wait on the peppers. Sitting in cool temperatures for an extended period can stunt peppers. Let things warm up some more before planting them.

Since your tomatoes are still very little and it is windy and cool, I would wait a week or two more. Pay attention to your 10 day forecast and decide based upon how it develops.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 9:41AM
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Hi Scott - Many thanks for this advice. I'll take it.

Next week, we are forecast to have daytime temps in the hi 60s and low 70s, so it's tempting to plant. Then I saw the long range forecast - another cold spell with several days in the 50s in late April. The extended forecast (thru first week of May) shows no temps above low to mid-70s. Shocking!

I don't recall anything like this long slow slog into an anemic spring. I'm sure we had cold springs before, but I must have repressed the memories.

Take care,

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 10:06AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Larry, I could be ready by this weekend if I want to mud them in, but I just might wait until the soil dries out a little.

Mia, When I pot up tomatoes from the starter flat to larger containers, I usually give them a day or two in the greenhouse under shade cloth and then I start hardening them off if the temperatures are warm enough. It just depends on how they look after being potted up.

Momofsteelex3, The Oklahoma way of gardening means learning how to garden while on a wild roller coaster ride with our constantly changing weather. In April, you never know if it is going to be 30 degrees...or 88 or 90 degrees. This is the reason we all are half-crazy at this time of the year

Scott, I was wondering how much of your market garden you had in the ground.

If I wasn't in a cold microclimate, I likely would have been out planting at the same time you were, but if there is one single thing I know for sure about gardening here, it is that I am going to have weather in the low 30s far later than I should 9 years out of 10 because of our microclimate. It was, in fact, 33 degrees here at our house this morning...and our forecast low had been 38. That's about typical this time of year.

If I was a market gardener, I likely would push the planting limits as hard as I possibly could. you know what." should have posted that you planted yours already so that I wouldn't feel like I'm the only one who possibly leads other gardeners astray by planting early! (grinning as I type that)

Our weather here in southern OK looks fantastic for the next week, so I imagine your tomatoes are about to go into a terrific growth spurt.

I have made the same mistake with putting peppers in soil that as too cold during our early years here and seeing them stall and stunt, and I learned from that experience.

Nate, Your row of cages looks great. I believe all your reading, research and planning will pay off this year and you'll have a great tomato year. I certainly hope that you do.

When I have wrapped cages, I like to use white duct tape instead of clothespins on the cages.

Pam, I understand the temptation to transplant tomato plants into the ground. Your tomato plants are still kind of small to face strong wind. Wind burn can be just as bad as, or even worse than, sunburn on young plant foliage. It will dessicate your foliage and kill plants in the blink of an eye.

Personally, I'd wait another week or two on the tomatoes, and a little more on the peppers. That is a conditional statement though because I don't live there and they aren't my plants. My general advice is to follow your gut feelings about planting, but keep in mind that your part of the country is having an extraordinarily slow-to-arrive spring.

Floating row cover was made to float loosely above the plants, resting lightly on top of them. So, it isn't strictly necessary to have a structure underneath it. I prefer to use hoops for anything I'm keeping covered up 24-7. I have used hoops made of PVC for years, and finally I bought a hoop bender so we could make more permanent and long-lasting hoops from electrical conduit. If I can think of the company from whom I purchased the hoop bender, I'll link it below. And, if I can't think of it, maybe Carol will remember the name because she bought one from them before I did.

I have had hoops covered with deer netting (it is stronger than bird netting because my cats think hoops + netting = cat hammocks) over the raised bed containing my onions, cauliflower and brussels sprouts plants since the day after I planted them. It mostly is for hail protection because last year we had hail 11 times and I am extra-paranoid about a repeat of that this year. (We've only had hail once so far in 2013 and it was only about pea to marble sized.) On a couple of late cold nights, including one when the temperature dropped to 19 degrees, I just put the floating row cover right over the netting and the plants were fine, but they likely would have been just fine too with the floating row cover sitting right on top of them with no hoops or anything else to hold it above the plants.

I suppose floating row cover provides some wind protection but I don't know how much and I don't know a way to determine how much of a difference it makes with regards to wind. It sure can help with late freezing temps and late frost though.

Using the cages might work. A lot depends on the cages themselves. If they are smooth and don't have any rough edges, they'd be fine to use, but if there's rough edges, the row cover can catch on those rough edges and tear so watch out for that.

We had a spring like this in 2002, and it seems to me I planted slightly later than usual because the nights stayed cold forever. I had a great garden that year even though it got off to a slower than usual start.

If the forecast models are showing any nor'easters headed your way in the next 7-10 days, maybe you should wait and not plant yet....c'mon, now, that's a joke! I don't know how you ever know when to plant with all the storms that come your way, and I hope nor'easter season is over, although I guess that then means that tropical cyclone season soon will arrive.


Here is a link that might be useful: Hoop Benders From Lost Creek

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 1:08PM
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I was really hoping to plant my tomatoes this weekend but with the threat of severe storms and drop in temperature (lows in the upper 30's-low 40's) next week, I decided to at least wait until next weekend.

My tomato plants are 6-7 weeks old and getting pretty big so I'm anxious to start planting them. If the weather doesn't look great after next weekend, I will have to start moving my plants to bigger containers. For those of you in the OKC area when are you planning to plant tomatoes?

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 5:03PM
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Dawn, Did you order your deer fencing? That would have been good to use over my raised bed of onions that I had to cover with row cover to keep the neighbors cat out.

I bought the 4 foot bender from Lost Creek. What size did you buy? I love having the hoops made so I can just grab them quickly if I need to cover something.

    Bookmark   April 5, 2013 at 11:05PM
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Cynthia, depending on weather indicators, my plan is to plant next weekend. Fingers crossed!


    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 7:16AM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Carol, I found it at the Lowe's in Ardmore. It is the thickest, most heavy duty deer fencing I've ever seen and much heavier than the stuff I had bought at Lowe's in the past. (That other stuff was garbage and the deer busted through it like it was paper, as did the dogs and the cats.) I hope it wasn't a fluke that they had the good stuff and hope they continue to carry it.

If I was going to order some deer fencing, I'd look at the stuff FarmTek has. This reminds me of their good stuff.

With the gloom-and-doom forecasts for next week including hail up to the size of baseballs, I wish I had bought enough of this deer fencing to cover the hoops over every bed. The cool-season garden is off to a great start and looking good, which almost seems to guarantee we'll get slapped down by a big hail storm.


    Bookmark   April 6, 2013 at 8:46AM
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