How to Plant, Stake, and Prune Tomatoes, Part I (Planting)
Tomatoes are the gem of the summer garden. Growing tomatoes is easy as they thrive just about anywhere. To produce healthy and bountiful harvests, though, takes a little bit of persistence. Starting them off well goes a long way in producing the bumper crop you desire.
There are many types of tomatoes: globe, cherry, grape, heirloom, red, yellow, and purple. The varieties seem endless, which is one of the best things about growing tomatoes. It is never boring, that is for sure.
When To Plant Tomatoes
Start all tomato varieties indoors, if at all possible. This gives them a jump-start on the season and means you will be harvesting tomatoes sooner! Tomato plants do not tolerate frost, which means if you live in a cold climate, they cannot go outside until all danger of freezing has passed. If you wait until it is warm enough outdoors to plant the seeds, you may not be able to start them until late spring. Seedling starts, on the other hand, will already be well on their way once the weather outdoors is suitable for transplanting.
Plant the seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the average last frost day. If you don't know when this is for your area, check with a local gardening or horticulture association.
Starting Seeds Indoors
What you will need:
- Tomato seeds
- Organic potting soil designed for seed-starting (never use garden soil)
- Seed starting pots or trays with drainage holes
- Labels & water-resistant marker
- A warm location with lots of light to place the pots
- Fill the containers ¾ full of potting soil.
- Moisten the soil thoroughly in each container.
- Place 1-3 seeds in each pot, depending on the size of the container. Seeds are best placed 1-2” apart.
- Cover each seed with ¼” soil, pressing it down lightly.
- Mist the top of the soil with water.
- Label everything! Seedlings all look the same!
- Place seeds in a warm location, between 75-80F (light isn't necessary yet). A seed-starting heating pad works great for this.
- Once the seeds start sprouting, give them lots of bright light. A bright sunny window or fluorescent lights are good.
- If the starts are in a window, rotate them every few days, so seedlings grow straight and tall instead of leaning towards the light source.
- Water the seedlings every day with a mister or spray bottle so they don't dry out. Be careful not to drown them, though.
- Once the seedlings have their first “true” leaves, which are actually the second set of leaves to appear, they are ready to be moved to larger pots to develop further. This generally occurs around 30 days.
- Gently remove the entire soil ball holding the seedlings and separate the roots. Plant each seedling in its own pot filled with moistened potting soil.
- Place pots in the same warm, well-lit location and water them daily, just as before.
- Once the nighttime outdoor temperature is regularly around 55F, the seedlings can be transplanted outdoors.
- Harden the plants off by placing them outdoors for a few hours each day, extending their time outside by a couple of hours each time. This prevents them from being shocked by the change in temperature. By the end of a week, they will be ready.
- Plant tomatoes outside, giving at least a foot between each plant.
- If there is still danger of frost, cover seedlings with row covering or garden fabric.
Indeterminate vs. Determinate
Be sure you know which type of tomatoes you are planting as their needs vary. Indeterminate tomato types grow large and unruly, often reaching upwards of 6-8 feet. Most heirloom varieties are indeterminate. Determinate type tomatoes keep to a specific height and are best for small spaces or container growing.