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Gardening: Start your tomato seeds indoors now

Ray Ridlen explains that tomatoes can be started indoors early in the year, then transplanted later.
BY RAY RIDLEN, For The Oklahoman Published: January 21, 2013

Water the containers when the potting soil lightens in color. Water bottles with the sports lid that you pull to open make excellent “waterers,” since they allow you to accurately direct the flow of water to the base of the plant.

Now back to the planting early subject. I like to plant my tomatoes in late March, knowing that we will have a “Tax Day” freeze.

The secret to protecting the tomatoes is your garden hose. Dark wet soil will absorb more solar energy than a light colored, dry soil. Most of us gardeners usually have a stack of one or two gallon black plastic pots lying around. Wet some newspaper and push the wet paper into the drain holes in the bottom of the pot. Just turn the pot over and sink it several inches into the mud. I have successfully saved tomato plants from temperatures of 25 to 26 degrees.

Another reason to start the tomato plants early is that I like to plant tall plants. I will take a 12-inch-tall tomato plant and trim away all of the leaves and branches, leaving only three to four leaves at the top of the plant. I will plant the plant deep with only the top three to four inches of the tomato plant above the ground.

This accomplishes two things: 1) The tomato plant will put out a root system all along the stem to nourish the plant, and 2) The short plant will be easy to cover for freeze protection.

Ray Ridlen is an agriculture/horticulture educator for the Oklahoma County Extension Service. His column addresses frequently asked horticulture questions. For more information, call 713-1125.