Growing tomatoes in your garden requires a conducive environment. All the more so, if you plan to have a bumper crop this year.
You’ll want to have a few tricks up your sleeve. So when it’s time to plant tomatoes, planting them is already within your field of expertise.
Think of this as your crash course for growing strong, healthy tomato plants.
Where Do Tomatoes Grow Best?
Before we go into detail on how to plant tomatoes, let’s take a glance at the best conditions to grow them.
The lusciously juicy tomato plant, AKA “apple of paradise” (Paradiesapfel in German) or Solanum Lycopersicum is a plant belonging to the Solanaceae family.
Tomato plants love a temperate climate. It gives them just the right amount of sun exposure and soil moisture. Now, if you want a garden chock-full of healthy tomato, make sure it receives six to eight hours of sun exposure a day.
The plant was first cultivated as food by the indigenous peoples of Mexico. After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire in the 16th century, the Spanish domesticated it.
It was only a few hundred years ago that the tomato plant was naturalized in almost every nook of the world. Here’s a map showing average tomato yields across the meridian in 2014.
How to Grow Tomatoes From Starter Plants?
Should You Grow Your Tomatoes From Seeds or Seedlings?
So, should you grow your garden veggies from seeds or seedlings (also known as starter plants)? Well, this is an ongoing debate. Some leave it to a gardener’s preference but there are some pros and cons to consider.
Here’s a quick rundown to help you decide if you should recalibrate your gardening methods or not.
You can start your tomato plants from seeds, but it’s riskier. Growing tomatoes this way will require more maintenance. You’ll have to protect the seeds left to the mercy of:
- Pests and weeds
- Floods or droughts
- The whims of the weather
For what it’s worth, this method will cost you less.
Inversely, starting tomatoes from seedlings doesn’t offer much versatility. You’re limited to buying tomato varieties available with local vendors. Yet, this method is more likely to set you off to a good start.
Furthermore, pests like slugs and snails can wreak havoc on the newly sprouted seeds. That said, settling on seedlings is a wiser option because they are:
- More mature and resilient than seeds.
- Less likely to be eaten by pests.
Follow us on an educational journey as we bring you our tomato planting tips.
How to Transplant Your Tomato Seedlings?
If you go for the seedlings, here are a few hacks to keep in mind. You want to provide the best growing conditions for your tomato plants from the get-go.
First off, you’ll want to buy your starter plants in a nursery. They usually come in containers filled with potting mix. The potting mix provides all the nutrients the tomato needs to develop in the initial stages.
How Big Should Tomato Seedlings Be Before Transplanting?
You can transplant your tomato seedlings once they’ve grown 2-4 inches high.
Depending on the type of container, this is how you’ll prepare your plants:
- Community pack. Make sure to single the plants out by cutting the soil between them. Use a knife to separate each seedling along with its root ball.
- Peat pots. Dig the pots deep enough into the ground. Don’t leave the edge of the peat pot protruding above the soil surface. This can suck the moisture out and put the stress on the plants.
How Do I Transplant Tomato Seedlings to My Garden?
Here’s a simple breakdown of planting a tomato seedling:
- Use crop rotation to protect your tomatoes from pests. Pick a location that hasn’t seen any tomatoes, peppers, or potatoes for three to four years. This will also decrease the need for any extra tillage.
- Put the tomato supports in at the time of planting.
- Make sure to leave enough space between your tomato vines – at least two to three feet.
- When you transplant your seedlings, make a hole large enough so you accommodate the root ball.
- Pile up a little soil on the sides and firm the soil around the roots.
When to Plant Tomatoes?
Good timing is critical for the growth of tomatoes.
Tomatoes love warm weather conditions, so you’re good to plant them when the spring season ensues. Timing depends on your latitude and weather conditions for a given planting season.
If you experience harsh winds you may need to harden off your seedlings before planting them. Starter plants are good to keep at room temperature before transplanting them outside.
Should the weather be on the chilly side, it’s best to hold back with planting. The seedlings may wilt or die if planted too soon.
Here’s when to plant tomatoes for best results:
- The best time for a tomato transplant is after the last spring frost. So make sure the soil has warmed first.
- If you’re growing your tomatoes from seed, keep a tally of frost dates. You’ll want to start your tomato seeds in time so they’re ready for planting once the frost has cleared off. That’s six to eight weeks before the average last spring frost date.
- If the weather keeps unstable far into the spring, protect your tomatoes by draping cheesecloth. The plants will adapt to the new conditions in two to four weeks, and begin establishing roots.
How To Plant Tomatoes so They Grow Stronger?
Plant Your Seedlings Sideways for Robust Roots
If you start your tomatoes with starter plants instead of seeds, they’re more likely to mature into strong, thriving plants.
Unlike many other vegetables, tomatoes can be planted very deep. The stems will turn into roots and you’ll have a much larger root system if you bury the plants deeper. You can even take a branch from a healthy tomato plant and plant it, and end up with a second tomato plant.
Here’s one tip on how to develop a really good and strong root system. Skip the traditional way of planting a hole that goes straight down.
Instead, plant your tomato sideways in a trench three to four inches deep.
But you have to be careful. It’s easy to break off the top of the tomato plant if you plant sideways and try to bend the top of the plant too far upwards.
Fortunately, there’s a solution to make it a little less likely to break the top of the plant. Before transplanting your starter plant outside:
- Lay it on the ground sideways the day before you plant it. As the plant reaches toward the sun, it will naturally start to bend upwards.
- The next day the plant will be ready to be planted horizontally. The starter plant will already be reaching upwards. This way it will be much less likely to break off when you set it in the trench.
Improve Your Garden Soil
How you prepare the ground is another aspect that determines your success in growing tomatoes. The soil is where your tomato plants will get most of their plant food.
Here are the essentials you need to keep in check.
- Use a good soil mix. Tomatoes need plenty of nutrients to grow and natural fertilizers can work wonders. Use mixtures with organic ingredients and stick to a 1:1 ratio with garden soil and compost.
- Add Epsom salts. Epsom salts are a great source of Magnesium which helps in building strong cell walls. They also help plants absorb sulfur and phosphorus and nitrogen from the soil.
- Install a good irrigation system. Monitoring moisture levels and air circulation is critical in growing healthy plants. Install a drip irrigation system to automate the watering process and save water. Adding well-rotted organic matter will help the soil retain moisture. Which brings us to our next point.
- Add additional organic fertilizer. Use a combination of organic fertilizers to grow your tomatoes healthy and strong. Adding a few crushed eggshells is a natural way to add calcium to the soil and keep blossom end rot at bay. Some coffee grounds (one tablespoon) and worm castings (a couple of tablespoons) are added to the eggshell mixture. The two provide a steady supply of nutrients since they’re released gradually into the soil.
Warm Up the Soil to Encourage Growth
Sun-loving tomato plants and capricious spring weather don’t go together well. Tomatoes growing in warmed up soil will germinate faster and better.
To ensure that your seedlings don’t go to waste, and encourage your tomatoes to shoot up, cover the soil with plastic sheeting.
Here are the steps to take:
- Cover the soil with red or black plastic a few weeks before you intend to plant.
- Leave the cover in place for roughly six weeks. This should be long enough to heat the soil for tomatoes.
- Once you’re all set to sow your tomatoes, remove the plastic cover and clear any weeds. Alternatively, leave the plastic cover on. Plastic mulches can heat the soil more quickly and increase early plant development.
Boost Your Gardening Expertise
For further reading on tomato planting, check out our article on How to Grow Cherry Tomatoes.
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