Transplanting tomatoes into the ground can seem confusing and daunting, but it's actually really simple. I'm going to tell you about what I have found works for me to transplant tomatoes into the ground.
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Planning for Growing Tomatoes
When you decide to grow tomatoes, there are a few things you will need to think about before you get started. Growing tomatoes takes a little bit of planning and effort up front, but it's definitely worth it when you end up with a juicy, plump tomato warm from the garden.
Starting tomatoes from seed
If you plan on starting tomatoes from seed, you will need to pick your tomatoes and order the seeds a few months ahead of time. Tomatoes are generally started indoors about six to eight weeks before your last frost date. Find your average last frost date here. You can read more about starting seeds in this post.
There are so many different varieties of tomatoes to choose from. You can choose what variety is best for you based on what characteristics you are looking for and how you are going to use the tomatoes. Take some time to research what variety will work best for your area. You will also have to decide how you are going to use the tomatoes.
There are heirloom tomatoes and hybrid tomatoes that have different characteristics. You can learn about the differences between different types of seeds in this post.
I like to grow heirloom varieties of tomatoes. For me, it's good to have a nice mix of tomatoes for eating, canning and making salsa. You can learn more about ways to use tomatoes in this post.
I usually order my seeds from Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds. I've also heard great things about Totally Tomatoes. Other reputable seed sources for tomatoes include Territorial Seed Company, High Mowing Seeds, Ferry Morse and Johnny's Selected Seeds.
Some of my favorite tomatoes to plant include: Black Krim, Cherokee Purple, Hungarian Heart, and Purple Bumblebee. But these are just a few of the varieties I plant, and I always love to try new varieties each year.
Determinate versus Indeterminate Tomatoes
One thing to note is that there are determinate and indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. Determinate tomatoes are bush type tomatoes that don't grow as tall. All of the fruit on determinate tomatoes matures around the same time, so your harvest will happen within a couple of weeks.
Indeterminate tomatoes are more viney. They may grow taller, definitely need to be staked and may take up more room. They produce throughout the entire growing season.
Growing in Containers
Tomatoes do need space, but they can also be planted in containers. Make sure that your container or grow bag is big enough (at least 10 gallons is optimal) and that you will be able to stake the tomatoes if needed.
Caring for Tomato Seedlings
Once you have started your tomato seeds, make sure that they get plenty of light and water. You will generally need a grow light to make sure that they don't become leggy by having to reach for natural light.
A couple of weeks before you are ready to transplant tomatoes to the garden, you will need to harden off the seedlings. You can do this by placing your seedlings outside for longer periods of time each day. For example, you might start by putting seedlings in the shade for 15 minutes the first day. The next day, increase the amount of time outside. Then start allowing them to receive more and more sun each day. You can read more about the hardening off process in this post.
Keep in mind that tomatoes cannot withstand frost, so make sure the ground is warm enough for transplanting. Check your last frost date to make sure you are planting outside of this time. If there is any chance of a frost after you have planted your tomatoes in the ground, it's best to cover the tomato plants with some kind of frost cloth.
Tomatoes are usually started in a small cell and then transplanted to a 3 or 4 inch pot. If you are not ready to transplant tomatoes from the 3 or 4 inch pot into the ground, they can always benefit from being potted up to the next size pot. Check out how to transplant tomatoes to bigger pots in this post. I like to wait until my tomatoes are about 6 to 8 inches before transplanting them into the ground.
How to Transplant Tomatoes into the Ground
To get started, find a spot in your garden that gets at least 6 to 8 hours of direct sunlight per day.
Healthy soil is the key for growing healthy plants. Learn more about making healthy soil in this post. Adding compost or manure to your garden beds will make sure that your tomatoes get plenty of nutrients to grow healthy and strong.
Before planting the tomatoes in the ground, pinch or clip off all of the bottom leaves from the tomato stem. You want to get the tomato as deep into the ground as possible. The tomato will grow roots all along the stem, so the more stem that we can get into the ground, the stronger your tomato will be.
There are a couple of ways to get the tomato plant into the ground, but the most important thing is to get your tomato deep enough into the ground so that it has the chance to grow a lot of roots.
You can dig a hole deep enough to place the plant up to the bottom leaves. You can also dig a shallow trench and lay the tomato plant down into the trench so that the stem is in the trench and the top of the tomato stands up straight.
As I transplant my tomato plants into the ground, I like to place a stake in the ground next to each tomato so that the tomatoes can be tied up later. Tomatoes will grow on the ground, sprawling all over the place. Leaving them to sprawl makes it difficult to harvest and allows for more disease wherever the plant is touching the ground. It also allows for your tomato fruit to rot if sitting on the ground.
I use metal rebar stakes for my tomatoes. I like these because they are strong and stable. They withstand the weather and are easy to put in the ground. However, these are not ideal. If you don't have too many tomatoes, using tomato cages or trellises made from cow panels is a great option. One thing to note is that a lot of the tomato cages you find at the store are really just too small for most indeterminate tomato plants. Here's a post that shows some other options. I might even try some of these this year!
It is really important to mulch around your tomato plants. Mulch helps to maintain soil moisture, cuts back on weeds and helps to prevent water splashing up and possibly creating disease. You can use things like shredded leaves, straw, hay or wood chips. Learn more about mulch in this post. You can wait a couple of weeks before adding mulch around your plants.
Indeterminate tomatoes like a lot of space, so about 24 to 30 inches between tomato plants is a good amount of space. Use a yardstick or a piece of wood cut to size to measure the space between plants. Rows should be about 3 feet apart.
Make sure to water the tomatoes into the ground.
Mark your Tomatoes
Enjoy the Harvest
Now that you have transplanted your tomatoes into the ground, keep them watered and pruned and you will have a great harvest in a couple of months!
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