Planting tomatoes can be expensive if you buy partially-grown tomato plants from a store or nursery. So, what’s a frugal mom to do? Simple: buy the seeds and grow your own tomato plants from seed!
Planting Tomato Seeds
Ideally, you want to have the seedlings up and ready to plant when the danger of frost at night is over. If you miss that, don’t fret, you’ve got lots of time to get tomato plants grown and producing. So let’s get started.
First of all, you need to buy sterile seed starting mix (young seedlings die easily from diseases and molds in unsterilized soil) and pour some in a large, well-drained container. Then, make indentations about a quarter inch deep in rows that are about an inch or so apart, and drop one seed in about every half inch or so. Next, carefully fold over the soil onto the rows leaving about a quarter inch of seed starter on top of each row. Tah-Dah! Your seeds are planted!
Wait – you’re not done yet… your little seeds are thirsty, so gently drip water over the entire container until you know the soil is thoroughly wet. They need some warmth to germinate as well, so set the container in a spot that is about 80˚ but not in direct sunlight. When the seedlings start to pop above the soil, then place them in bright sunlight and watch ’em grow like weeds! Be sure to keep the seed starter bed moist as the seeds are trying to sprout up; they need that moisture!
Caring for Tomato Seedlings
It won’t be too long before your little tomato seedlings will have real leaves on them – these come later than the cotyledon leaves which emerge immediately as the seedlings break through the soil. When these true leaves appear, then it is transplanting time! (Check your seed packet for maturity times) Don’t worry – it’s not hard to transplant these little guys at all. Make sure that you have a little pot of at least three inches and at most four inches in diameter for each of the plants – get them ready with a good potting mix already in the pot and dampened thoroughly before you start transplanting.
Ready? Here’s what you do: gently take hold of each little tomato plant by the uppermost leaves, and use a fork or other small digging tool to carefully tease apart the roots. Lift up the little plant with as much of the root ball intact as you possibly can – you want to assure that the roots are not damaged during this process.
Ok, so you’ve got a baby tomato plant in your hand – now what? Use your finger to make a hole in the dirt of your new pot, and put the root ball of the tomato plant deep into the hole so that the bottom leaves are just above the soil line. Press the soil gently all around the plant to push out the air, and surround the roots with moist soil. Thoroughly wet the pot with a gentle stream of water.
Seedlings Need Special Care Before Reaching the Garden
Now your baby tomatoes need sunshine and water, of course, but they also need some temperature control to really take off from this point. Try to keep them above 65˚ and preferably 70˚ until they develop more roots and stem and are ready to go into the garden. Another thing that is very important – don’t leave them outside unprotected on colder nights, as this will stunt their progress. The temperature, day and night, is as important as the good sunshine and consistent watering to tomato seedlings.
About watering, don’t let the soil dry out completely or the tomatoes will quickly shrivel up and die. On the other hand, don’t keep the soil so wet that it doesn’t get a chance to dry out between waterings. I know, it’s a fine balance, but just remember it’s not too wet or too dry. Try to water in the mornings as plant diseases and molds can grow quickly in wet soils overnight. If the tomato seedlings are in bright sunlight for many hours, check them by early afternoon to see if they need more water.
Hardening Off Tomato Plants
After you get the transplanted seedlings happily situated in their new pots, plan on setting them in the sun for a few hours a day, each day, to acclimate them to the bright sunshine. If you leave seedlings out in the sunshine all day long, they can quickly die, especially right after transplanting with small and inadequate roots. Increase the amount of time in the sun over the next few weeks to get them used to being in the sun.
Planting Tomato Plants
By the time the plants are six inches tall, they are ready to be planted in the garden. Dig a hole where you want to plant the tomato plant, and gently turn your pot upside down – hold the tomato plant with one hand as you tap the roots and dirt out of the container – then, set the tomato plant’s root ball into the hole. Cover the tomatoes roots with dirt, tamp down the dirt, and water the plant thoroughly.
Growing tomato plants from seed is not hard, in fact, it is so easy you’ll wonder why you spent so much money on store-bought plants in the past.
Have you ever started tomato plants from seeds?
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