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How To Grow Tomatoes From Seed

Spring is on the horizon! Even if it hasn’t begun to warm up in your neck of the woods, it’s never too early to start thinking about your garden. Tomatoes are among the most popular plants for home gardeners. Most of us rush to garden centers to buy young plants each year. But you might be surprised to learn that growing tomatoes from seed isn’t as hard as you think.

Unlike purchasing young plants, growing tomatoes from seed is a process that starts indoors a few months before the weather warms. Fortunately, this indoor stage of care is simple, and the challenge is worth the rewards. Read on to find out how to take your tomatoes from seed, to seedlings, to established outdoor plants this spring.

Supplies

Every successful gardening venture starts with the right supplies. To grow tomatoes from seed you will need:

  1. Tomato Seeds

  2. Potting Soil

  3. Small, Draining Containers

  4. 3-4 Inch Draining Pots

  5. Liquid Fertilizer

  6. Trowel

Optional materials that may help your plants grow more hardily include:

  1. Grow Lights

  2. Fan

How To Grow Tomatoes From Seed

Once you have all of the materials you need, it’s time to get started.

Step One: Choose Your Tomato Seed and Variety

Not all tomato varieties are created equal, and the variety you choose will affect not only the amount and type of fruit you get at harvest, but the care your plant will need as well. As a rule of thumb, opt for high quality, organic seed no matter what variety you prefer.

When choosing your tomato seed consider the following:

Yield and Harvest

The first thing any experienced tomato planter will tell you is that different plants offer different harvest windows. There are two main types of tomato plants: determinate, and indeterminate.

Determinate tomato plants are smaller in size and will create a large yield of fruit all at once. For some gardeners, this leaves them with more tomatoes than they know what to do with. But, if you have big plans for canning or preserving your harvest, or simply don’t want to pick your fruit often, this can be a good solution for you.

Popular determinate tomato plants include roma, glacier, rutgers, mountain glory, celebrity, and more.

In contrast, indeterminate tomato plants tend to grow larger (think sprawling, vining plants), and continue to ripen and bear fruit over a longer period of time. This means you can enjoy a long harvest season, but will need to tend to your plants and harvest regularly to reap the largest benefits.

Popular indeterminate tomato plants include grape, early girl, sun gold, brandywine, cherokee purple, and more.

Local Conditions

Your planting season will vary depending on your local conditions. For warmer weather climates with an early spring and longer growing season, the seedling stage may start as early as January. For those with a longer freeze, seeding may not begin until later into the year, around mid March or April.

As a good rule of thumb, plan to put your seeds in the dirt six to eight weeks before your region’s last predicted frost date. Check your planting Zone on the USDA’s website.

Grow Method

Do you have a lot of space to let your plants spread out? Or are you a renter, trying to reap the benefits of a healthy tomato plant from the comfort of a small balcony? The amount of space and your growing method is a big factor in choosing your seed variety.

If you have limited space, opt for determinate varieties, which tend to be smaller and easier to contain. Some indeterminate varieties may also work in small spaces, but will need to be regularly maintained and supported.

Personal Preference

Finally, a lot of what determines the best tomato seed for your comes down to personal preference. Tomatoes offer gardeners a huge range of flavors and varieties.

Some plants, such as grape tomatoes, bear smaller fruit that is great for salad. If you’re in pursuit of sandwich slices, opt for larger, beefsteak varieties. Have plans for a big spaghetti dinner? Pick a determinate roma variety and get to work. No matter what you choose, the best tomato for you is one that you’re excited to eat.

Step Two: Prepare Your Containers for Plantings

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One you’ve picked your seeds, it’s time to roll up your sleeves. Get to work preparing your small, draining containers with your potting mix. These small containers will be your tomatoes home for the first few weeks of their life. Combine soil and water until the soil will hold its shape when squeezed, but is not releasing any excess water. Soil should be damp, but not soaked.

Once you have achieved this consistency, grab your small containers. Fill each section to the stop and lightly compress. The final soil level should leave about one inch of breathing room from the top of the container.

Step Three: Plant Your Tomato Seeds In The Containers

With your containers prepped, it’s time to get to the fun part—planting! Use your finger to make a small hole in the surface of your potting mix. The furrow should be only about ¼ inch deep. Into each space, place two or three tomato seeds and cover with the displaced soil.

Your soil mix should already be damp, but if it feels dry, mist lightly with water. Continue to mist to dampen as you wait for germination, but take care not to over water. Soil should not be soaked at any point in the early planting process. Once planted, choose a warm spot in your home with good light. You should see signs of germination in five to ten days, depending on the variety of tomato.

Step Four: Tending To Your Tomato Seedlings

After germination has begun, you can officially consider yourself a tomato plant parent to a flock of tomato seedlings. The first few weeks of your plant’s life are important to ensure your plants are off to a solid start.

During this time, provide your seedlings with steady warmth, moisture, and good light. If you are not lucky enough to have a space in your home with consistent bright light, it’s probably a good idea to invest in a set of grow lights. Other factors to help your plant get a strong start include a strong breeze and a little bit of extra fertilizer.

Wind can be simulated with an indoor fan pointed at your seedlings for an hour or two a day. Fertilizing can begin once your seedlings are sporting their first leaves.

Step Five: Move Tomatoes From Containers to Pots

There comes a time in every tomato seedling’s life when they graduate from their initial germination containers to a bigger pasture. You’ll know it’s time to replant your seedlings when they reach a height of 3 to 4 inches, and have a few solid sets of leaves.

Preparing for the replanting process should mirror the initial seeding stage. Mix potting soil with water as done previously. Carefully turn out each seedling and gently loosen roots, taking care not to damage your plant. Create a larger furrow for your new plant, and place the seedling into its new home.

Pack soil firmly around the base of the stem, ensuring that your seedling is stable. Continue to keep soil damp and warm, and well lit. Fanning and fertilization can continue on the same schedule as your plants continue to grow.

Step Six: Moving Your Tomato Seedlings Outdoors

Six to eight weeks after their initial planting, your tomatoes should be ready for their big garden debut. Hopefully you have picked out a planting space ahead of time. Ideal locations get a lot of bright, direct sunlight and are safe from scavengers that may eat the fruit before you get to it.

Do NOT transfer plants outside if your region is at risk of a cold snap. Freezing can kill or stunt plants. Keeping your tomatoes indoors longer is better than sabotaging your work by planting too early.

When transferring plants outdoors, make sure you root your tomatoes deeper than they were rooted in your pot. This will offer additional stability as they adjust to their new home outside. If you are growing a container plant, make sure your container is large enough with an appropriate trellis, stake, or vining apparatus.

Good transfer days are overcast to help plants avoid shock. If your area does not receive regular precipitation, make sure you continue to water your plants as they grow.

Depending on your tomato type, your fruit will either ripen throughout the season, or in a large harvest. Either way, you can take pride in knowing you’ve seen your tomato plants through every stage of their lives. Growing tomatoes from seed can be challenging, but the reward is delicious.

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