If the last frost for your area has come and gone and you haven’t planted your tomatoes yet, don’t worry! Unless your season is very short, getting a late start on planting tomatoes is perfectly fine and can actually be a good thing for your harvest.
But, before you buy those discounted transplants at the garden center, here are some tips you should know to get the best harvest.
(I recently did a 5-minute video on Facebook Live on this subject here.)
The first thing to consider if you’re starting tomatoes after your last frost of the spring is that you have a few options now! You can either buy tomato transplants from the garden center or nursery, or you can plant seeds directly in the ground.
You can see from the pictures below a comparison of the transplants I planted a few weeks ago (from seeds I began in late January) and a tomato seedling that “volunteered” from last year. Even though they are two months apart in age, the more mature plant actually isn’t much larger than the seedling.
Why is that? With the warmer temperatures and warmer soil, the seeds germinate quicker and grow at a more rapid pace. Plus, avoiding the adjustment of transplant shock, the seeds planted directly in the soil skip that stunt in growth altogether.
But, if you’re like me and want to plant the tomato plants in the ground, be sure you buy good specimens. Here are my tips:
- Do NOT purchase plants that appear “leggy.” That is, they are tall with long, gangly stems and overall top-heavy (view my Facebook Live video for an example).
- Purchase plants with stocky, bushy growth, especially toward the top.
- It’s okay if the leaves mid-stem are small; that’s normal. In fact, you’ll probably want to bury that whole stem anyway and snip those leaves.
- Beware of discount transplants; if they have outgrown their container and look like they’re struggling, they’ll have a harder time with the transplant shock and may not recover for a good, healthy harvest.
- If they already have yellow flowers, pinch the flowers off right away. You will want the plant to send its energy into getting established in the bed before producing fruit.
Again, the further you get into the growing season, the more likely you’ll see tomato plants that have outgrown their containers. If that’s all you can find, you’re better off with seeds.
The keys to starting your tomatoes off right are healthy plants and fertile soil. Whether you choose to plant from seed or to purchase a good transplant, you should be harvesting your share of tomatoes in no time!
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Before you go… 6 Tips to Growing Tomatoes You May Not Know