When To Plant Tomatoes In Oklahoma? (Best Time and Expert Tips)
Tomatoes are a staple crop for Oklahoma gardeners. Growing juicy, vine-ripened tomatoes is a rewarding way to enjoy summer’s bounty. Determining the optimal planting time is key to maximizing your tomato harvest in Oklahoma’s hot climate.
Why Timing Matters for Planting Tomatoes in Oklahoma
Picking the right moment to plant is crucial for success with Oklahoma tomatoes:
- Tomatoes thrive once daytime temperatures reach 70-85°F and nighttime lows are above 50°F. Planting too early or late can reduce yield.
- Oklahoma’s last spring frost varies, ranging from early March in the south to early May in the panhandle. Planting beforehand risks damage to plants.
- The soil must be sufficiently warm – at least 60-65°F – for tomato roots to properly develop and take up nutrients.
- Allowing enough time for fruit ripening before Oklahoma’s summer heat peaks in July/August ensures the largest, tastiest tomato harvest.
Determining Last Frost Dates and Planting Times by Region
Oklahoma has a large geographic area encompassing multiple climate zones. Here are planting guidelines tailored to different areas:
Central and South Central Oklahoma
This region encompasses Oklahoma City, Norman, Ardmore, and Lawton. The average last frost is around March 20, which may vary by 2 weeks.
- Start seeds indoors: 6-8 weeks before your anticipated last frost, from late January to late February.
- Transplant outdoors: 2-3 weeks after the last frost risk has passed, from early April to early May.
- Plant purchased plants: Early April to mid-May.
Northeastern cities like Tulsa and Muskogee have similar last frost timing to central OK, around March 20. Follow the same timetable.
Eastern OK near the Arkansas border along the I-40 corridor falls in USDA Zone 7a, with the last freezes from March 15-30.
- Start seeds indoors: 6-8 weeks prior, from late January to mid-February.
- Transplant outdoors: Late March to mid-April, after your area’s last frost.
- Plant purchased plants: Early April to early May.
Cities like Elk City and Woodward in western OK have later last frosts from April 1-15 and are in USDA Zone 6b.
- Start seeds indoors: 6-8 weeks before the anticipated last freeze, from mid to late February.
- Transplant outdoors: Late April to early May, once frost risk has passed.
- Plant purchased plants: Late April through mid-May.
The panhandle around Guymon and Boise City has the latest last freezes, from April 20 to 30. It falls in Zone 6a.
- Start seeds indoors: From late February through mid-March.
- Transplant outdoors: Mid-May to early June after danger of frost.
- Plant purchased plants: Mid-May to early June.
Key Dates By Oklahoma Region
|Last Frost Date
|Start Seeds Indoors
|Plant Store Bought
|Central/South Central OK
|Late Jan to Late Feb
|Early April to Early May
|Early April to Mid May
|Late Jan to Late Feb
|Early April to Early May
|Early April to Mid May
|Late Jan to mid-Feb
|Late March to Mid-April
|Early April to Early May
|Mid to Late Feb
|Late April to Early May
|Late April to Mid May
|Late Feb to Mid March
|Mid-May to Early June
|Mid-May to Early June
How to Determine Your Local Last Frost Date
Want to narrow down your specific location’s final spring frost to decide when to start planting? Try these methods:
- Check with your county extension office. Many provide planting calendars tailored to your county’s climate data.
- Look at the NOAA Interactive Spring Freeze Risk Map for Oklahoma. It shows freeze probabilities based on geography.
- Observe the bloom times of early bulbs like tulips and daffodils, which emerge just before the last freeze. Plant tomatoes about 2 weeks after they flower.
- Track soil temperature at your garden site, waiting to transplant until the 4-inch depth readings are at least 60°F.
- Note past seasons – when could you safely transplant tomatoes without cold damage?
- Use a minimum-maximum thermometer to record daily low temps and determine when they stay above freezing.
How to Time Tomato Planting for Optimal Success?
Use these tips to get your tomato crop off on the right foot:
Start Seeds Indoors
Getting a head start on seeds allows transplants to grow to a decent size before moving outside. Time sowing based on your target transplant date.
Use Heating Mats
Maintain consistent soil temperatures of 70-80°F for best germination. Heating mats or grow lights help meet warmth requirements indoors.
Allow Proper Light
Tomatoes need 8-10 hours under grow lights or in a sunny window to avoid becoming leggy and weak. Turn containers regularly for even exposure.
Harden Off Seedlings
Gradually introduce indoor tomatoes to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting. Slowly increase time spent outside.
Transplant On An Overcast Day
Choose a cloudy, calm day to transplant if possible. This causes less shock than sunny, windy conditions. Water the soil thoroughly the day before.
Use Season-Extending Devices
Row covers, hot caps, and mini-greenhouses can protect from cold snaps. Ventilate on warmer days. Remove when temperatures are reliably warm.
Wait For Adequately Warm Soil.
Let soil temperatures guide you even if the calendar says it’s time. Transplant after soils reach 60-65°F to ensure proper root growth.
Allow Proper Spacing
Give tomatoes room to grow. Space indeterminate types 18-24 inches apart, determinate at 12-18 inches. Cage or stake plants to keep fruits off the ground.
Plant At The Correct Depth
Ensure the top sets of leaves are just above the soil. Planting too deeply can cause rot and other issues.
What If It’s Too Late in the Season?
Missed the ideal window for your area? Try these tactics to get a tomato harvest still:
- Switch to early-maturing tomato varieties, which take 55 days or less to produce. Suggestions: Red Pearl, Stupice, Early Girl.
- Purchase the largest transplants, ideally stocky vs. leggy/overgrown. Bigger plants will set fruit sooner.
- Prune lower leaves and branches of transplants so plants can focus energy on fruiting instead of foliage growth.
- Protect transplants with season-extending devices like cloches and hot caps to retain warmth, especially overnight.
- Pinch off any flowers or fruits that form in the first 2-3 weeks to allow plants to establish before fruiting.
- Use black plastic mulch to heat the soil by transforming light into thermal energy (red mulch also works).
- Use shade cloth or mesh covers to protect plants during peak summer heat if planting late.
- Fertilize regularly with a balanced plant food, avoiding high-nitrogen types that mainly fuel leafy growth.
- Consistent watering is key for late plantings to help them endure heat/drought stress.
Common Tomato Planting Mistakes to Avoid in Oklahoma
While tomatoes are generally easy to grow, here are some missteps to sidestep:
- Setting plants out too early when overnight lows are still cold. Wait until all chance of frost has passed.
- Allowing seedlings to become tall, weak, and leggy indoors due to insufficient light or nutrients.
- Skipping the hardening-off process. Gradually introduce plants to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days before transplanting.
- Planting tomatoes too deep or allowing soil to pile up on stems. Plant at the same depth as in pots.
- Failing to provide adequate support. Staking, caging, or trellising is vital to keep fruit off the ground and prevent disease.
- It is overwatering, especially early in the season, if the weather is cool/damp. Allow soil to partially dry between waterings.
- Applying high-nitrogen fertilizer fuels leafy growth over fruit production. Use a balanced vegetable food instead.
- Allowing lower branches and suckers to overtake plants. Prune judiciously for best growth and air circulation.
- Crowding plants too closely. Follow recommended spacing guidelines.
- Not covering plants during cold snaps in spring or fall. Have covers ready to deploy as needed.
Tomato Growing Tips for Oklahoma’s Climate
Tailor your care practices to suit Oklahoma’s conditions:
- Use drip irrigation or soaker hoses to target water to roots while keeping foliage dry. Avoid overhead watering.
- Mulch around plants with 2-3 inches of grass clippings, straw, leaves, etc., to conserve moisture and reduce weeds.
- Stake, trellis, or cage plants to improve air circulation and light exposure in the canopy.
- Monitor closely for common pests like stink bugs, hornworms, flea beetles, and tobacco mosaic virus. Control as needed.
- Pick tomatoes as they ripen to avoid losing crops to birds and squirrels and rotting on the vine during the summer heat.
- Grow heat-tolerant varieties like Celebrity, Heatmaster, Phoenix, and Solar Fire. Some tolerate temps up to 100°F.
- Provide shade with covers/cloth during peak summer heat if planting extends late into the season.
- Watch for signs of blossom end rot (dark leathery spots). Correct by keeping soil moisture consistent.
- Use organic sprays like compost tea, Bacillus thuringiensis, neem oil, or spinosad to prevent disease and deter pests.
Enjoy Tomato Goodness with These Oklahoma Favorites
Put those garden-fresh tomatoes to delicious use! Here are some classic tomato dishes in the Sooner State:
- Fried green tomatoes – a Southern classic! Dredge unripe slices in cornmeal and pan fry.
- Tomato gravy – simmer crushed tomatoes into a savory sauce for chicken fried steak, biscuits, and more.
- Chili Rellenos – batter and fried peppers stuffed with tomato, onions, and cheese.
- Tomato salsa and chips – dice tomatoes, onion, jalapeno, cilantro, and lime juice for a zesty dip.
- Poke salad is a tasty Oklahoma specialty featuring raw greens, tomatoes, boiled eggs, and bacon dressing.
- Tomato sandwiches – slather mayo on thick tomato slices between white bread.
- Okie stew – this hearty stick-to-your-ribs stew contains tomatoes, onion, bell pepper, potatoes, and smoked sausage.
- Summer salad – mix sliced tomatoes, cucumber, avocado, and onion with a splash of oil and vinegar.
- Gazpacho – puree tomatoes into a cold soup along with cucumber, bell pepper, onion, and seasonings.
- BLTs – fry bacon and layer on bread with lettuce, tomato, and mayo for a classic sandwich.
Conclusion: When To Plant Tomatoes In Oklahoma
Your tomato harvest can be abundant with the right timing for Oklahoma’s regional climates. Pay attention to last frost dates, track soil warmth, harden off transplants, and use season-extending devices if planting late into spring.
Avoid common mistakes like overwatering and insufficient support. Care properly for plants during Oklahoma’s hot summers; soon, you’ll savor homegrown tomato goodness.
FAQs about When To Plant Tomatoes In Oklahoma
When is the best time to plant tomatoes in Oklahoma?
The ideal time to plant tomatoes in Oklahoma is from mid-April through May after the last frost date has passed for your area. Start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks earlier.
How do I know when the last frost date is for my area?
Check with your local county extension office, look at the NOAA Interactive Spring Freeze Risk Map for Oklahoma, or observe natural signals like blooming bulbs.
Should I start tomato seeds indoors or plant-purchased transplants?
Starting seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before transplanting gives plants a head start on growth. Or opt for transplants from garden centers in spring.
How do I harden off tomato seedlings before transplanting?
Gradually expose indoor seedlings to outdoor conditions over 7-10 days, slowly increasing outside time. This toughens them up.
What is the proper planting depth for tomato transplants?
Set tomato transplants at the same soil depth as they were growing in pots. Plant them deeply enough to cover the roots but not bury the stem.
How far apart should I space my tomato plants?
Give tomatoes proper room to grow. Space indeterminate types 18-24 inches apart, determinate varieties 12-18 inches apart.
Should I use cages, stakes, or trellises to support tomato plants?
Yes, providing support keeps fruits off the ground and improves air circulation and light exposure to prevent disease.
How much water do tomatoes need when first planted?
Water thoroughly at transplanting, then allow the soil to partially dry between waterings. Too much moisture can cause disease issues.
What kind of fertilizer is best for tomatoes?
Avoid high-nitrogen fertilizers, which produce extra foliage over fruit. Use a balanced vegetable food instead.
What are some common tomato pests and diseases in Oklahoma?
Watch for stink bugs, flea beetles, hornworms, tobacco mosaic virus, blossom end rot, and other tomato troubles.