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.
Growth Rate of Tomato Seeds vs. Transplants
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 transplanted in my garden around my last frost date and a tomato seedling that grew from seed in the garden. 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 plants.
How to Choose the Best Tomato Transplant
Do NOT purchase plants that appear “leggy.” If they are tall with long, gangly stems and are overall top-heavy, they won’t acclimate to the transplant as well as younger plants.
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 more difficult time with the transplant shock and may not recover for a good, healthy harvest.
Pinch off flowers. 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.
Special Consideration for Planting Tomato Seeds in the Garden
If you do decide to plant seeds directly in the garden, check the “days to maturity” on the seed packet and make sure you have enough time in your growing season for a harvest. You can check your average first fall frost date here. All harvesting should be completed by this date.
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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