Planting Tomato Seedlings: 7 Tips for Success

May 16, 2014 | By | More

planting tomato seedlings

Tomato Envy

Tomatoes are my #1 “frenemy” but I’m hoping to change their status to “BFF” this year. I love tomatoes fresh off the vine, in salads, pureed into soups and sauces, roasted, stuffed, juiced, and even made into luscious tomato basil jam. For me, growing them has been challenging. This is my third year planting tomatoes that I’ve started from seed under grow lights in my basement. I’ve learned so much about planting tomato seedlings, I’m confident I’ll have great success this year.

People, most of whom have never grown a tomato in their lives, will tell you that tomatoes are among the easiest home garden crops to grow. I heartily disagree. They are not super-easy to grow, and there’s actually a lot that can go wrong. Getting them off to a good start with proper planting techniques is the best thing you can do to ensure your success.

If you have tomato plants that you’ve nurtured from tiny seeds or bought as seedlings, the time to plant them is sometime in late spring.

  1. planting tomato seedlings

    Black plastic ain’t pretty, but it warms the soil

    Take your soil’s temperature. I remember my first year of vegetable gardening when I decided that, based on the calendar date, it was time to plant my tomato seedlings. As I dug into the soil in my raised garden bed, I remember the soil feeling cold. No matter, I mercilessly put my tender seedlings in anyway because, well, it was time. My tomatoes languished all season and I got very few tomatoes. You should wait until your soil temperature is at least 60 degrees, and 65 degrees is even better. Not a moment sooner!

  2. A few weeks before planting, stretch heavy black plastic mulch over the area that will house your tomato plants. This will heat your soil considerably and create a weed-free home for your plants. Either remove the plastic when you plant or simply cut into the plastic and plant your tomatoes directly in the openings.
  3. If your soil is adequately warm, but the weather is still a little unpredictable or if you have nights where the air temperatures are still plunging down into the 50s, consider using a vented cloche to insulate your plants. This year, I constructed hoop houses over my tomato beds and I cover them with vented clear plastic to protect them from evening chills and wildly fluctuating temperatures. I’ll keep them in place until nights here are consistently in the 60s.
  4. Keep an eye on your soil temperature even after you’ve planted the seedlings. When soil heats up to 70 degrees, put down some mulch if you did not plant into the black plastic. Mulching at this point with organic straw or grass clippings from an organically-maintained lawn will help keep the soil warmer and hold in moisture at the root zone.
  5. planting tomato seedlings

    My temporary tomato “greenhouse”

    Plant your seedlings on their sides and in a trench. If you examine a tomato stem, you’ll notice little “hairs” and each of these hairs has the potential to grow into a root if planted. Planting your tomato seedlings all the way up to their top leaves will ensure they develop a robust root system. Rather than digging a deep hole (soil is cooler the deeper you go), use a hand trowel to construct a trench that’s several inches deep. You can actually pinch off one or two of the lowest branches of your plant to get even more stem to bury. Gently lay your tomato plant on its side, and cover the stem with soil so only the top few branches are visible. It may look funny, but in a day or two, your plant will straighten itself and begin growing upwards.

  6. Mix a handful of garden gypsum into your soil before covering the stem and root ball. Gypsum helps keep soil loose and will add calcium that can later help prevent dreaded blossom end rot. Pat your plants gently into their new home and top dress with a handful of worm castings before watering them in.
  7. planting tomato seedlings

    Plant them on their sides

    Stand back and watch them grow! Provide consistent moisture and keep an eye on your plants. They will need support from a trellis or tomato cage as they grow. Put the supports in place before the plants get too large to avoid damaging their roots.

 

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Category: General, Home and Garden, Kitchen Garden

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  1. Tomato Envy? Not Me! - Tomato Envy : Tomato Envy | October 3, 2014
  1. My favorite way of getting fresh garden tomatoes is to wait until my next door neighbor has way too many during harvest – then they magically appear on our doorstep 🙂

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