Most gardeners start their tomatoes in late January or early February. Doing so gives them a chance to grow into mature plants before transplanting. Of course, there is always the option of buying greenhouse grown plants. If you choose to plant your own, here’s how.
Some gardeners prefer to use small peat pots or trays to start their tomato plants. This means they will have to be moved to a pot that has more room to grow about a month prior to planting. You can actually save a step by starting tomatoes in larger pots right away. Whatever pots you decide on, be sure they drain well so as not to encourage mold growth.
How many tomato plants do you want in your garden? You should plant a few more than you actually need in case one or two fail. You can always give away or sell extra plants. If you do plan to sell some of your seedlings, go ahead and plant those in small peat pots to save soil.
Use high quality organic or heirloom, non-gmo seeds for best results.
Follow these steps for initial planting:
- Place pots in indirect sun.
- Use organic, fortified potting soil for optimum success.
- Fill pots approximately ¾ of the way with soil.
- Wet your soil thoroughly before planting seeds.
- Tomato seeds should be planted 3 to a pot.
- Plant seeds ¼ inch deep and about ¼ inch apart, centered in the pot.
- Cover loosely with soil.
- Cover pot with plastic wrap to retain water.
- Check daily. Keep moist.
- When seedlings are about 3 inches high, remove wrap.
- Inspect the seedlings. Remove all but the best one.
Once you have selected the best seedlings, keep a close eye on them. If it seems they are drying too quickly, place them in an area that doesn’t get quite as much sunlight. If they are yellowing, they may not be getting enough sun. Yellowing is also a sign of over-watering, over-fertilizing or even a lack of fertilizer. You can discern each issue based on the condition of the plant and soil.
If your soil is saturated, it’s likely you are over-watering or your plants are not getting enough sun to evaporate the water. If the soil seems to be moist, but not wet and plants are still yellowing, they probably need fertilizer. However, if you have fertilized several times, you might consider the fact that you’ve overdone it.
It’s easy to over-fertilize. Therefore, it’s smart to have time release fertilizer specially formulated for tomatoes on hand. Follow package directions as no two fertilizers are alike. Inexperienced gardeners might do well to choose foolproof fertilizer spikes.
When tomato plants get their true leaves, or a third “set” of leaves, pinch them off to keep stems strong and cause the tomato to be fuller and bushier.
Once your plants start growing, they may need some support and guidance. Simply use a short stake and soft string to hold them up and keep them from drooping. Drooping puts stress on stems and vines. Staking keeps them more sturdy, stable and puts you in charge of growth direction.
As tomato plants grow, they may need to be trimmed further to produce a bushier, more productive plant. Once they are transplanted, they shouldn’t need further trimming.
Tomatoes should not be transplanted until middle or late May after the last frost when garden soil is consistently warm. Timing may vary according to region. At time of transplant, they should be 1-2 feet tall, strong and bushy.