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!
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.
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.
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