Step 1: When you’re at the nursery, always choose the shortest and most stocky young plant you can find. The short stocky, thick stemmed seedlings are grown with care under very close proximity UV lighting. The short thick young plants show that the little sprouts didn’t have to reach for the light as they were spouting and beginning to grow.
Photo Credit: Sunnyvalegarden.com
If the young tomato stalk you’re looking at is lanky and thin or even floppy, this is not a good choice and means that the light was too dim or too far away from the spouts to cause them to grow properly.
Not enough light. The tomato sprouts in the image to the left are growing with insufficient light. This is what is causing them to lean over and reach for the light and be very spindly.
Sometimes it’s possible to make a lanky sprout strengthen and thicken up but it isn’t the prime choice if the option to buy a stocky one is there.
Choose the darkest green foliage of what’s available as well. Important note: Yellowing leaves indicate a lack of nutrients, lack of light or other stresses on the seedling.
Step 2: Prepare the planting spot. Dig out a hole that’s about 3 shovels worth of soil. Dig a larger hole if the tomato plant root ball you have is larger than that though. Make the hole about triple the size of the root ball on the seedling. Fill the hole nearly to the top with good quality soil mix.
Did you know that a tomato is a fruit?
Step 3: Plant the tomato very deeply. Much deeper than what might seem right. Plant it up to right under the second set of leaves, then press the soil firmly around the stalk. The first set of leaves are called the Cotyledon leaves and they look like this to the right:
The cool thing about a tomato plant is that it will grow roots from the entire stalk that is submerged underground. This ability creates many layers of extra roots to develop. These additional roots help to stabilize the adult plant as well as increase the plant’s ability to absorb nutrients from the soil.
Step 4: Water with good clean water, use rain water if you have it, otherwise the hose water is fine.
Step 4.5: If you really want to super charge your tomato babies, water them with water that has been infused with compost (this is called Compost Tea) or fertilizer. This gives your seedlings a big boost of nutrients that help them to grow and produce better. It’s easy to make compost tea or you can just buy it in a concentrate.
If you do it yourself, just take an old pillow case or buy one from the thrift store and fill it half way with compost. Then submerge this in a rain barrel or large tub and let it soak for 1 – 2 days. Take this water and dilute it down if necessary but water the tomato babies with it.
They will love the numerous nutrients from the compost. If you don’t have compost you can also do this with commercial fertilizer. Just dilute a hefty amount of the organic fertilizer in the big tub of water and then water the plants with that.
Step 5: Water the babies in the morning and also be very careful not to splash water and soil up on to the leaves. The wet leaves are prone to blight.
Step 6: Stake them up! Tomato vines are not happy lying on the ground. The fruit rots easily if it touches the soil for any length of time. So they need to be staked if you’re planting them in the ground.
This doesn’t apply if you’re planting them in an upside down planter or hanging basket. For the in-ground tomatoes a metal spiral stake is nice looking, very effective and easy to use.
Use tomato cages such as these for heavy duty tomato support that won’t let you down when the plant is at its’ heaviest. They are worth the investment.
Step 7: Tomatoes are fast growers and therefore need a lot of fertilizing. This where you come in and are very important to the success of the final harvest.
Each time, you’ll need to feed them with either the compost tea or a solution of natural fertilizer. I recommend Myke brand which is myccorrhizae fungi or Dr. Earth has a good natural one too or this one from Neptune’s Harvest is organic and affordable.
Step 8: Tomatoes are very susceptible to a disease called blight. You can pretty much assume that you’re plant(s) are going to get it. Since this is the case, then I recommend that you apply a copper bordo mixture all spring long and into the early summer. Do this every 10 days in order to combat this problem which will show up in August. This remedy comes in the form of a liquid copper fungicide.
If you follow these 8 helpful steps, you’ll likely be able to grow a bountiful harvest of big, beautiful healthy tomatoes this year! Following these tips, it will make it possible for you to grow so many other amazing varieties of heirloom tomatoes using seeds and seedlings from the nursery.
Have fun with it! Leave a comment and let me know how it has worked for you.