Tomato Planting Tips

Chill out tomato gardeners. You’ve been stressing about moving those tender transplants outdoors and into the ground. Your reputation for growing the best tomatoes in the neighborhood is on the line again. But there’s no need to worry because these 5 Tips and 4 Videos will help you lay the foundation for tomato success in 2018!

8 week plant

Nice eight week old plant, but the gardener
could have saved time, trouble & money by starting the seeds two weeks later. A smaller plant would have produced just as much fruit!

Tip #1: “My plants got too big”!

Starting seeds too early is not a rookie mistake: lots of experienced gardeners do it too!  You have two choices if your transplants are outgrowing their containers: plant them (see below) or pot up to a larger container (watch How to Pot up Transplants)

Next year, start later! It only takes 5-6 weeks to grow a perfectly fine tomato transplant indoors under fluorescent light tubes.

Buying your tomato plants this week? Check out our video, What Size Tomato Plant is Best.



Tip #2: Toughen up those pampered pets

Hardening-off is the pre-plant process of getting your transplants used to the great outdoors. This reduces “transplant shock” caused by cool soil and crazy weather conditions. Start seven to ten days before planting by putting plants outside for a few hours in a protected location. Increase the amount of time they spend outdoors each day. Bring them in at night if temperatures are expected to dip below 55⁰ F.


Tomato plants hardening-off under porch chairs.


Tip #3: Planting: the ”real world”

Dig planting holes about two feet apart (depending on cultivar) and mix compost and ¼ to ½ cup of gypsum at each hole.  Gypsum (calcium sulfate) is a fast-acting liming material that will help prevent blossom-end rot and won’t affect soil pH.

Water plants well, strip off the lower leaves of tall plants and watch How to Plant Tomatoes to learn the simple techniques. Optional for fertile soil and recommended for low organic matter soil: lightly fertilize at planting or soon after.

Tip #4: Give ‘em support

Vertical support will help you save space, prevent pest problems, and increase yields. Don’t delay- get your system in place soon after planting. There are many staking and supporting techniques that work well. Avoid the three-prong, cone shape metal cages because they tend to fall over and the welds can break under the load of a bumper crop. Here’s an oldie but goodie video, Tomato Cages, featuring Larry Kloze, a venerable UME Master Gardener from Baltimore.

Not a disease

Not a disease! These symptoms were caused by extreme temperature, weather fluctuations, and soil particles picked up and driven into plant tissues by brisk winds.

Tip #5: Don’t freak out!

After planting you will likely see some minor environmental stress injury to leaves and stems. Don’t worry, your plants will grow out of it. You’d be showing stress symptoms too if you were exposed to wind, storms, hail, and 40⁰ F. temperature swings!


Author: Jon Traunfeld, Extension Specialist


3 Comments on “Tomato Planting Tips

  1. Think more info would be useful. Using your #s:
    1. but if leggy, the more stem buried below ground, the more the root structure that will form to create a healthy plant (unlike most plants that should be planted level with pot depth).
    2. the under chair pic could confuse readers since no info provided. Can be used for temporary shade and a few degrees of cold protection at night, but is not a permanent solution for anything.
    3. everything i’ve read recommends 3′ spacing for regular tomatoes since air circulation reduces disease, but success can result at 2′, but why not provide another sentence or 2?


  2. Yes, planting the stems of tall plants horizontally is a good tip and covered in the How to Plant Tomatoes video mentioned in Tip #3.

    Spacing depends a lot on the type of tomato, support system used, and available space. I find that 20-24 inches works well for full-size determinate cultivars and indeterminate cultivars pruned to 2-3 main stems.


  3. Pingback: Vegetable Garden Updates | Maryland Grows

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