Tomatoes are one of the easiest vegetables to grow. A tomato plant will sprout almost anywhere. Producing beautiful, juicy tomato fruits, on the other hand, takes a bit more patience, dedication, and determination. One key to success is giving the tomato plants the best start at life.
If you haven't read our guide about choosing tomato varieties, read that first. A considerable part of growing tomatoes successfully is determining the proper type and cultivar for your growing region.
Step By Step, Planting Tomatoes
- Sow tomato seeds in starter trays or small containers 6-8 weeks before the last expected frost. Tomatoes are not frost tolerant, so to get a headstart on the growing season, seedlings are sprouted indoors.
- Choose a high-quality vegetable potting seed-starter soil mix. Do not use dirt from the garden or re-use old potting soil. Those can transfer pests and disease to your baby tomato sprout-lings.
- Fill the containers with the potting soil and water it thoroughly before planting. This ensures the seeds don't get lost in the mix.
- Plant individual tomato seeds 1/4” deep and at least 1” apart.
- Label as you plant! When they sprout, they all look the same.
- Put the pots in a bright, warm spot, between 75-80F. If you don't have a location with enough heat or light, use seed heating mats and grow lights to supplement.
- Every day, mist the soil with water, so it is wet but not soggy.
- In 7-10 days, the seeds will sprout.
- Continue watering daily with a mister to keep the soil damp to the touch.
- When the seedlings reach several inches tall and have 3-4 leaves, they are ready to be transplanted to larger pots. This is usually around the 30-day mark.
- If you intend to plant these tomatoes in the garden, transfer them to 3-4” pots. If the tomatoes are staying in the container permanently, use a 5-gallon tub or pot for each seedling.
- Use the same potting soil from before. Fill the containers and wet the soil thoroughly.
- Carefully, using a butter knife or fork around the pot's edges, lift up the seedling and root structure, being careful not to damage them.
- Make a hole in the soil of the new container and put the seedling in it. Lightly press the soil all around the base to eliminate air pockets.
- Place pots back in the warm, bright location they were previously.
- Water the soil daily, so it is damp but never soggy.
- After the last frost and when the outside temperature is consistently above 55F, it is time to harden them off. This simply means slowly acclimating them to the cooler outdoor weather.
- Set the containers outdoors for a couple of hours each day, extending the length of time until, by the end of 10 days, they are outside permanently.
- If you're growing in the containers, move them to a permanent bright, warm, full-sun location.
- To transplant the seedlings to the garden or raised bed, place them 2' apart in rows that are also 2' apart. Indeterminate tomatoes may need more room.
WATERING AND CARE:
- Tomato plants require 2-3 inches of water per week, which means you need to water regularly and consistently. Only water at soil level because if you water from above, the leaves will burn, leading to diseases.
- Stake or trellis the tomato plants while they are young. It becomes a much more difficult task when they are taller and producing fruit. If you don't cage or stake the plants, the fruits will make it top-heavy, and you'll have plants and fruits sprawling on the ground.
- For indeterminate types, remove side suckers and lateral stems to focus the plant on growing fruit and not more foliage. Do not prune determinate tomato varieties.
HARVEST!:Tomatoes have the best flavor when they are harvested fresh. Once you see them producing, check every day. Small animals and birds will eat any you miss or neglect!