View additional articles in our Garden Library .
The seed starting process is the most exciting kick off to the gardening season. Watching your seedlings grow into sturdy, colorful, tasty plants can be fascinating. Scheduling tomato seeding, starting the process correctly, and proper growing on maintenance is important to your tomato seed growing success.
To determine the best time for seeding tomatoes, count back 6 to 8 weeks before the last average spring frost in your area. You can consult your local county extension service if you’re not sure what the last frost date average is. The timing of your tomato seeding will determine the quality of your tomato seedlings, so plan your schedule carefully. Tomato seedlings can become leggy and possibly stunted in your containers if started too early. When tomato seedlings are held too long indoors, they tend to have a difficult time adjusting to conditions in the garden. On the other hand, tomato seedlings started too late will delay your tomato harvest.
The easiest way for you to schedule tomato seeding is using two to three dates approximately a week apart. Staggered tomato seeding will give you several sizes of tomato plants for staggered tomato planting and a slightly staggered tomato harvest. It takes approximately 7 to 14 days at a temperature of 70° to 80° F for germination. You could possibly sell the extra tomato plants to cover your tomato seed costs, plant the extras and sell the fruits to cover the cost of your tomato crop, or maybe you just want to give tomato plants to family and friends so they can try their tomato planting luck!
When you are ready to seed your tomatoes, fill cell-packs, peat pots, plastic pots, or clay pots with a good sterilized potting soil or soilless mix. Firm gently, but do not pack, and moisten. Using a dibble (pointed stick or pencil), make a hole in the center of the potting mix approximately ¼” deep, drop in two to three tomato seeds and refill the hole. If you are sowing in market packs or flats, sow tomato seeds sparingly in rows or scatter the tomato seeds thinly across the soil surface. Cover the tomato growing area with ¼” of potting mix and firm lightly.
Be sure to mark your tomato containers with tomato variety names and tomato planting dates. Water your tomatoes thoroughly with a fine spray or wet soil from the bottom, allowing water to absorbed until the surface is moist. After sowing, keep your tomato containers moist but not wet and in a warm place (70°-80°) until seeds germinate. To speed the germination process, apply bottom heat with a heating cable or sit the flats on top of a water heater. Check your tomato seedlings often so the tomato seedlings can be moved to full light as soon as they emerge.
As soon as your tomato seedlings emerge be sure to locate them in the sunniest spot available. You can also use grow lights, positioning your tomato plants 4” to 8” below the light source, and lighting your tomato plants 12 to 18 hours per day, just not at night. Temperatures of 60° to 70° are best to grow tomato seedlings. Keep the soil surface moist for your tomato plants and provide for air circulation.
If you are growing tomato plants in market packs or flats, young tomato seedlings are ready for transplanting to individual pots when they develop their first pair of true leaves. Thin your plantings down to the strongest single tomato seedling by pinching off weaker tomato seedlings at the soil level.
Fertilize sparingly when your tomato seedlings are 3 to 4 weeks of age. Use a foliar feed concentration (1/3 to ½ of regular strength) of a complete 20-20-20 water-soluble plant food.
Approximately 7 to 10 days prior to tomato transplanting tomatoes to the garden, begin adapting your tomato plants to outside conditions. You can utilize a sheltered location such as a cold frame or screened in porch to protect your tomatoes from wind and sun at first. Then gradually accustom your tomatoes to tomato garden conditions as the weather permits. Hardening off strengthens the tomato plant cell structure and will result in much sturdier and more rapidly growing tomato plants after transplanting to the tomato garden.
Jung Seeds provides all the vegetable seeds and gardening supplies you need to start growing tomatoes at home. Shop our wide variety of tomato seeds and gardening supplies online today.
For more information about growing tomatoes, continue to Growing Tomatoes Part 2- Site Preparation and Transplanting.
April 20, 2012