Alicia DeVore

Wondering about tomatoes and when to plant them? The golden rule is to start indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost and transplant once night temps consistently exceed 50°F. Read more in this blog post to get the planting insights you need for a thriving tomato garden.

Key Takeaways

  • Wait for the right temp (60-80°F during the day) before planting tomatoes, and start seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost to transplant when it’s warm enough.

  • Understand the differences between tomato varieties—determinate types are suited for containers, indeterminate for ongoing harvests, and heirlooms for unique flavors; care for them accordingly.

  • Proper tomato care includes regular watering, fertilizing, pruning, and staking for support, as well as pest/disease control, all leading to a successful harvest and quality preservation.

Biggest Mistake Planting Tomatoes Too Early: Best Planting Time for Tomatoes

biggest tomato planting mistake

Imagine strolling through your local Home Depot. You spot a collection of robust, ripe tomato plants ready to go. You’re tempted, and why wouldn’t you be? But wait, you glance at your phone to check out the temperature and see that it is in the 40s. This is a classic scenario that happened to me in early April of being led to plant tomatoes too early, a pitfall that many beginning gardeners fall into. Remember, the key to successful tomato gardening isn’t just about buying the biggest, most beautiful plants but understanding the right planting time.

Tomatoes prefer to grow in temperatures ranging from 65 to 8 degrees Fahrenheit during the day, as these conditions promote their healthy development. They crave sunlight and need a location with full sun exposure. Plus, well-drained but moist soil is crucial for their growth. So the next time you see those tempting tomato plants in the store, remember to consider the temperature and humidity tomatoes require for optimal growth.

Starting Tomato Seeds Indoors

Starting tomato seeds indoors is a great way to kickstart your tomato garden. This should ideally be done six to eight weeks before the local last frost date. Here’s how to do it:

  1. Plant the seeds 1/4-inch deep in a seed-starting mix.

  2. Keep the soil moist by watering gently.

  3. Cover the seeds with a clear dome or plastic to maintain humidity.

To germinate optimally, tomato seeds need a temperature between 64°F and 77°F. You don’t need a huge setup to grow seedlings. A simple setup with a heating mat and a large tray in a controlled environment, like your garage, will do just fine. I have tomato seedlings growing in my garage with a heat mat and light and in a closet in the house. Both work.

Transplanting Tomato Seedlings Outdoors

starting tomato seeds indoors

Transplanting tomato seedlings outdoors is a critical step that requires careful timing. You need to wait until the risk of frost has passed and the soil is warm. Nighttime lows should ideally be at or above 50°F.

Before you transplant, make sure that the young tomato plants have multiple sets of leaves and are at least 6 inches tall. Also, remember to harden off your tomato plants for one to two weeks before transplanting them outdoors. This process helps the plants adjust to direct sunlight, wind, and temperature changes.

Container Gardening with Tomatoes

transplanting tomato seedlings outdoors

If you lack garden space, determinate tomato plants, also known as bush tomatoes, are perfect for container gardening. These plants stop growing at a certain height and tend to set all their fruit at once. ‘Gartenperle’ and ‘Tumbling Tom Red’ are perfect for container gardening and hanging baskets due to their compact bush varieties. They’re ideal for small spaces and can add a beautiful touch to any garden..

For container gardening, remember to:

  • Use a pot with a minimum width of 18 inches for determinate tomatoes

  • Use a pot with a minimum width of 24 inches for indeterminate varieties

  • Practice companion planting by adding marigolds and basil to provide natural pest control, attract pollinators, and enrich the potting soil.

Outdoor Garden Tomato Planting

When it comes to planting tomatoes in an outdoor garden, timing is everything. The soil temperature should ideally be at 60°F. Tomatoes need consistent moisture to thrive, so water deeply once or twice a week depending on weather conditions.

Remember, tomatoes are sun-lovers. They need at least six to eight hours of direct sunlight a day for optimal growth and fruit production. However, in hot climates, providing some afternoon shade can help protect them from excessive heat.

More Tomato Growing Information:

Learn These 5 Tips for Growing Tomato Plants for Pots

Master the 5 Essential Stages of Tomato Plant Growth Timeline

How Tomato Companion Planting Can Help Your Tomatoes Grow Like Crazy

The Beginner’s Step by Step Guide to Growing Tomatoes Easily

Tomato Varieties and Their Planting Times

Did you know that different tomato varieties have specific planting times and techniques? Your approach to planting cherry tomatoes might vary from planting other types of indeterminate tomatoes. This diversity makes tomato gardening an exciting venture.

Whether you’re nurturing determinate tomatoes or going for the intriguing heirloom varieties, understanding and applying the correct planting methods can significantly influence your harvest. Let’s delve deeper into the world of tomato varieties.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes

Tomato plants are categorized into two main types: determinate (bush) and indeterminate (vining). Determinate tomatoes grow to a set size and fruit profusely over a short period, making them ideal for container gardening or if you prefer a compact growing season.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes continue growing and fruiting until the first frost, making them an ideal fall and winter crop. These types are perfect if you have ample garden space and wish to enjoy a continuous supply of tomatoes throughout the growing season.

Heirloom Tomatoes

lots of heirloom tomatoes

Heirloom tomatoes are a gardener’s treasure. Cherished for their vibrant colors and unique flavors, these tomatoes are often passed down through generations.

When selecting heirloom tomatoes, look for those with vibrant colors and free of blemishes as indicators of good quality. Remember, these tomatoes are not just a crop but a heritage, a testament to the timeless beauty of gardening.

Cherry and Grape Tomatoes

Cherry and grape tomatoes are perfect for small gardens and family gardening. They’re easy for kids to taste and therefore, can spark their excitement to help you grow more. Beyond the joy of gardening, this activity also teaches valuable life skills to kids, including:

  • Patience

  • Responsibility

  • Problem-solving

  • Creativity

Growing these small tomatoes not only provides physical benefits like improving motor skills and coordination but also encourages healthy eating habits as kids learn about the importance of nutrition through growing their own fruits. Make a memory with your children or grandchildren and grow a tomato plant with them. Experience those first ripe tomatoes, warm off of the vine. This type of memory will help your children want to grow and eat more of their own food.

Caring for Your Tomato Plants

outdoor garden tomato planting

Proper care for your tomato plants includes:

  • Watering regularly

  • Fertilizing as needed

  • Pruning to remove suckers and promote airflow

  • Staking or caging to support the plants

  • Monitoring for pests and diseases and taking appropriate action

By following these steps, you can successfully grow tomatoes, ensure a bountiful harvest from your plants, and properly store them for later use.

Watering and Fertilizing

Watering and fertilizing are two crucial elements of tomato care. Tomato plants typically need 1 to 2 inches of water per week, with deep, infrequent watering encouraging strong root development. Remember, tomatoes do not like to be drenched at their roots. They prefer a deep soak every few days in hot summer temperatures and less frequently in cooler weather.

Fertilizing is just as essential. Tomato plants should be fertilized every 4 to 6 weeks during the growing season to ensure they have the nutrients they need to produce tomatoes all summer. I usually fertilize a few days before temperatures get high to give the tomatoes nutrients to survive the heat.

Pruning and Staking

Pruning and staking are two additional aspects of tomato care that can significantly influence their growth and yield. Pruning techniques such as pinching off suckers in the V-shaped crotches can help reduce the number of side branches and focus the plant’s energy on fruit production, potentially preventing issues like blossom end rot.

Staking, on the other hand, provides necessary support for the plants, especially when they become heavy with fruit. This is particularly important for determinate tomatoes, which may not need a trellis for climbing.

Pest and Disease Control

tomato hornworm

Preventing and managing pests and diseases is a crucial part of tomato care. Pruning can help prevent diseases and reduce pest issues by promoting better airflow and healthier plant production. Certain companion plants, like basil, can act as an early warning system for diseases, exhibiting symptoms before they become apparent on tomato plants, allowing for more timely intervention.

Natural pest control methods can also be very effective. For example, basil can attract insects that prey on harmful insects, providing natural pest control for your crops.

Companion Planting for Tomatoes

how to companion plant

Companion planting is a gardening technique where different plants are grown together for mutual benefit. When practiced with tomatoes, it can provide pest control, attract pollinators, and enrich the soil.

However, companion planting doesn’t offer full-season pest protection for tomatoes. Continuous monitoring is required to ensure your tomato plants remain healthy. That said, the benefits of companion planting extend beyond pest control. For instance, sunflowers can attract certain pests away from your tomatoes while adding aesthetic value to your garden.

Beneficial Companions

Certain plants make excellent companions for tomatoes. Marigolds, for example, are useful for deterring tomato hornworms and aphids, while lavender can attract beneficial pollinators and repel pests.

Onions, when grown near tomatoes, can serve as a physical barrier to protect the fruits from rabbits. Basil, celery, and onions are among the plants recommended to grow alongside tomatoes for mutual benefit. Choosing the right companion plants is crucial for natural pest control, attracting beneficial insects, and creating protective barriers for your tomatoes.

Harvesting and Storing Tomatoes

Harvesting and storing tomatoes correctly is crucial to enjoying your labor’s fruits. The best time to harvest tomatoes is when they are ripe, which depends on the variety. For example, not all tomatoes turn red when ripe; some can be pink, yellow, or even burgundy-black.

Once harvested, tomatoes are best stored at room temperature, lasting about a week. If cold temperatures are coming through and a frost is forecasted, it’s best to take the green tomatoes off the vine so they can safely ripen in the house.

Harvesting Tips

Harvesting tomatoes is about more than just picking the ripe fruit off the plant. Different varieties have different signs of ripeness. For Beefsteak and Roma tomatoes, a ripe state is indicated by a vibrant red color, a firm texture, and slight softness.

However, if you’re looking to make fried green tomatoes, pick those that are firm and uniformly light green, without an orangish tint, indicating that they are unripe.

Storing Fresh Tomatoes

Storing fresh tomatoes correctly can help maintain their flavor and prevent bruising. For best results, store them stem-side down on paper towels in an open container away from direct sunlight.

Ripe tomatoes should be checked every day for any signs of spoilage, such as leakage or mold spots, and used or discarded appropriately. This way, you can ensure you consume fresh, healthy tomatoes every time.

Preserving Tomatoes

If you’d like to enjoy your tomatoes beyond their fresh state, consider preserving them. Canning is a popular method that involves placing tomatoes in jars with water or their own juice and heating them to a temperature that kills off bacteria.

Freezing is another simple preservation method where whole, sliced, or diced tomatoes can be frozen with or without their skins. If you prefer dried tomatoes, you can remove their moisture either in the sun, a dehydrator, or an oven. Remember, the key to preserving is to keep it simple and fun, making it a part of the growing process you look forward to each year.

Summary

From understanding the right time to plant tomatoes, exploring different varieties, caring for the plants, to harvesting and storing the fruits, we’ve embarked on a comprehensive journey into the world of tomato gardening. Remember, each step from planting to preserving contributes to a successful and bountiful harvest. With these insights, you’re now equipped to cultivate your own vibrant, juicy tomatoes. Here’s to a fruitful tomato gardening season!

Frequently Asked Questions

What is the best month to plant tomatoes?

The best month to plant tomatoes is when the danger of frost has passed and the soil has warmed. For some people that could be February, for others not until May. Aim for the sunniest spots to maximize fruit production.

What should you not plant next to tomatoes?

I plant them all over my garden and have not found that they mind being by other nightshades.

Can tomato plants survive 40-degree weather?

Tomato plants won’t survive temperatures below 35 degrees Fahrenheit and won’t thrive below 50 degrees. Their flavor, firmness, and shelf life start to diminish after a few days at or below 40 degrees.

When can I plant my tomatoes outside?

You can plant your tomatoes outside when nighttime temperature lows are consistently at or above 50°F (10°C), which typically happens a few weeks after your local last frost date.

When should I plant tomato seeds indoors?

Plant tomato seeds indoors six to eight weeks before the last local frost date.

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About the Author

Alicia has been teaching her whole life from elementary teacher to workshops for beginning gardeners.  Go HERE to read Alicia's story into gardening from plant killer to pro grower and garden coach.  If you want to send Alicia a quick message, then use her contact page HERE.

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