Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

Photos By Rebecca Anne Cole

Tomato plants are tender annuals that require full sun and warm temperatures to thrive. They are heavy feeders, needing plenty of moisture and well drained soil. Whether purchased from a grower or started indoors from seed, tomato plants need special care when being transplanting to the garden. 

When to Transplant Tomato Seedlings

Tomatoes are sensitive annuals that are susceptible to cold temperatures. Patience is imperative when it comes to transplanting tomato plants. One cold snap may wipe out an entire crop if set out too soon.

I wait until temperatures are consistently above 65 degrees F before I set out my tomato plants. I look for evening temperatures to be at least 45 degrees F, and all threat of frost has passed. If an unexpected frost threatens newly transplanted tomato plants, carefully cover them with an old sheet or blanket.

Harden Off Tomato Plants

Before setting tomato plants in the garden for good, gradually expose them to the outdoors. This is can be done in hour long increments, increasing the time over a few days until the plants have acclimated to the outdoors.

If conditions are windy, provide some protection to prevent damage to the plants. Purchased tomato plants should already be hardened off and ready for the garden, but it doesn’t hurt to confirm this at the time of purchase.

Plant the Seedlings

Tomatoes plants are heavy feeders. Before planting the seedlings, amend the soil with rich compost. After plants are hardened off, dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the entire root system and most of the stem. Fill in with soil and pack tightly. Roots will develop from the planted stem, providing additional support to the plant.   

I like to add natural supplements to the hole with my tomato plants. Crushed egg shells, coffee grinds, and fish remnants (bones and skin) may sound odd, but tomato plants love the nutrients they provide.

Provide Support

Tomato plants grow heavy vines with large fruits and will need additional support. Individual plant cages work well, but can be expensive if there are many plants to support. If using cages, position then with the tomato seedling at the time of planting. Trying to add the cages after the fact may result in damage to the roots or vines.  

I like to use a weave method to support my tomato plants. Place stakes in the ground at each end of the tomato row, then secure one stake in between every other plant. Tie garden string at one end, then carefully weave the string in between the plants, tying to the middle stakes as you go along. Tie the string to the opposite end once the row is secured. Add strings to the weave as plants grow taller to ensure proper support.     

Mother Earth Gardener
Mother Earth Gardener
Expert advice on all aspects of growing.