Tomato growing season is upon us, and some home gardeners are already posting photos of seedlings and young tomato plants online.
This article is written to explain how wonderful and forgiving the tomato plant is for all levels of home gardeners.
You do not have to start your tomato seeds as early as February or March to have a rich and plentiful harvest. Tomatoes are great that way. You can wait for milder weather to arrive.
- 5 tips for a plentiful tomato harvest + a bonus tip
- Summary and conclusion
I have done both, some seed trays are on the go, but many more seeds are being planted weekly.
5 tips for a plentiful tomato harvest + a bonus tip
Here are five facts to help you make the right decisions for your tomato plants this season. I write facts as I have been doing this for years with excellent results.
1. Fear not if your tomato seedlings are leggy
We all want strong and compact seedlings. And this should always be your goal. But if you do end up with leggy seedlings, fear not. Your tomato plants will work with you, and there is an easy solution.
You see, tomato plants are masters at developing fresh, new roots along the stem. And we use this trait by repotting the seedlings deeper than they were growing before.
Just carefully remove the first leaves and plant your seedlings as deep as possible while avoiding the remaining leaves touching the soil.
You will be amazed how that one leggy seedling now suddenly looks strong and compact in its new pot.
When planting your seedling deeper, ensure no leaves are in contact with your potting soil. Deep nursery pots are really useful to ge the job done right.
2. It is fine to keep 2-4 seedlings in one pot
We all love tomatoes, and most of us overseed to ensure we get enough plants. And then, all of a sudden, we remember that tomato seeds are good at germinating, and we find ourselves with a truckload of seedlings.
Now space becomes a factor. Sure, we may be able to find a spot for all of them in the garden or give some away to friends.
But what do we do before the seedlings are ready to move outdoors? Do you have to plant each seedling in an individual nursery pot?
Of course not. It is perfectly fine to grow 2-4 seedlings in the same nursery pot. Imagine your pot being divided into sections, and then plant one seedling in each section.
You will have to monitor the soil moisture and nutrition levels. But trust me, check on your seedling daily, and they will tell you if there is a problem.
You are good if the stems and leaves look strong and vibrant green.
One word of caution, do not plant your seedlings too close together. You want some separation to ensure proper airflow and circulation. Also, it will prevent root systems from getting all tangles up making further pot-ups more complicated.
3. It is not one pot up; it is a process
Tomato seedlings are relatively easy to pot up. And this works to our advantage as we can gradually increase the size of the pot as the seedling develops into a mature plant.
I often pot up my tomato plants 4-5 times before they are planted in their final spot.
My best tip is not to worry about the whole pot-up process. Avoid touching the stem and plant as much as possible, but touching or holding the stem is no catastrophe.
Here is an easy 4-step process:
- Start by watering the pot of the seedling you are about to transplant or pot up.
- Next, prepare the new larger receiving pot. Make sure you have all you need at easy reach before even touching the seedling again.
- After a couple of minutes, work from the pot and up, gently remove the plants from the pot. Dig into the pot, and hold the plant by the roots. Support your plant with an open hand as needed.
- Finally, place the plant in the new pot making sure you always plant it deeper, fillup with soil as needed, and water.
No stress, just a simple, straightforward process.
4. Get your support in place before your tomato plants need it
You will rarely need to support bushy, determinate tomato varieties. But when it comes to the indeterminate varieties, support is not only needed but necessary.
Because it is not only about the height of the plant, it is more about the weight of the actual fruit.
And trust me, it is not easy or enjoyable to fit a support structure into a mature tomato plant.
Instead, get the support in place before the plant needs it. This way, the plant will use the support structure as it develops, and you will end up with a stronger and more stable plant.
It may look silly with high stakes surrounding a small tomato plant for the first couple of weeks, but your plant will soon catch up, and you will be thankful that the support is already in place.
5. How to turn one tomato plant into two
This is one of my favorite tomato plant hacks; I will most likely write a full article on this later.
But in short, seeds are generally not expensive, but I often get disappointed when I only find a handful of F1 seeds in a seed packet.
Sure, I get it. F1 are first-generation hybrids with all the best characteristics from the parent plants concerning expected yield, disease resistance, and more vigorous growth. But still, would 10-15 seeds be too much to ask?
But worry not; this little hack will have you multiplying your F1 plants with ease.
Here is an easy 5-step process:
- Start with a tomato seedling with at least four sets of true leaves
- Cut the seedling just above the second pair of true leaves
- Leave the donor seedling in its pot; the seedling will branch out and develop two stems, each capable of producing fruits
- Place the cut top of the seedling in a glass of water and place it in a location with plenty of light
- Replant the top cut-off seedling in a pot with soil when you see new solid white roots forming
And yes, you can do this over and over. It works like a charm because tomato plants love to develop new roots.
6. Bonus tip
Some seedlings are thirstier than others. And the cells hosting those seedlings will need to be watered more frequently.
This is why looking at each cell in your seed starting tray is essential.
Do not make the mistake of looking at the same seedlings every day. It is not unusual that some pots have good soil moisture, whereas others are beginning to dry out.
Look at the photo from one of our seedling trays below to see how easy it is to spot.
And as you can see, I am growing two seedlings in that cell. These cells with more than one seedling are, of course, the cells that warrant extra attention. And yes, I am getting close to pot-up time.
Have you discovered the "What we use and feel good about recommending" section for the seed starting and watering tools we use.
Summary and conclusion
At the end of the day, tomatoes are an excellent plant for home gardeners at any level.
Sure, tomato plants are not cold-hardy, do not like wind, and need a lot of water to stay healthy on a hot summer day.
But the thing about tomatoes is that they give us a second chance if we make minor mistakes. And that ability to develop new roots along the stem makes them special in my book.
So get those seeds planted, and let me know how it goes. And do check our Guide to growing tomatoes like a master gardener.