Transplanting Tomatoes

It’s the end of April and the nighttime low temperatures should stabilize above 50°F in the coming weeks. This means that it is time to discuss transplanting tomatoes. The reason 50°F is an important number is because below that temperature, tomato plants get their chemistry thrown out of whack and as a result get stunted and produce less fruit due to blossom drop. If you want to learn more about why this happens, click here for a good article from the USDA on the subject.

With all this in mind a common question we get is: what procedures to follow when planting tomatoes in pots or in the ground? Addressing this question requires a multifaceted answer that will be tackled presently.


If you have a favorite soil, keep using it. If you don’t know what soil to use for pots or raised beds we like Kellogg brand Raised Bed and Potting Mix. We get it from Home Depot in 3 cubic ft bags. It looks like this: kellogg-raised-bed-and-potting-mix-medium-size-of-thrifty-ft-raised-bed-with-potting-mix-shop-soil-soil-amendments-kellogg-raised-bed-potting-soil

If you buy this it does not need to be amended with compost until after it has been used for a season in a garden bed.


If you are putting a single tomato plant in a pot, aim for one around 24″ across or greater. Anything less than that will constrict the plants root system and make them unhappy later in the growing season. If you want to try putting 2-3 plants in a single pot, try a halved whiskey/wine barrel. They are usually a good size to support multiple plants.


So you have your tomato plants ready to go in some soil either in a large pot, a whiskey barrel, a raised bed, or in the ground. Tomato plants are special, they can grow roots from the main stem in humid conditions or if the stem is in the ground. Consequently, tomato plants can be planted in the soil much deeper than they are in the 3-4″ seedling pots. We bury the plants so that half of the stem is below the soil. We have heard that up to 2/3 of the stem under the soil works too. This admittedly sounds really counterintuitive, but because the tomato plants will produce roots from their buried stems, it will strengthen the support system (the roots) and let the tomatoes gather nutrients from the surface all the way to deep in the soil-column. Stronger plants and better tomato harvests are achieved this way. Fred Gonsowski over on his blog has an excellent illustration depicting what should be done as well as a nice article on the subject. Go check it out by clicking here.

There is another way to bury the plants and achieve the same results too. If the tomato plant is leggy, the pot not deep enough to bury them that far down, and/or if your soil is hard and clay-like a foot below the soil, here is what you can do. You can lay the plants on their side at a shallow angle in a trough in the soil and cover them with more soil, leaving the growing tip and some top leaves above the soil. The growing tip will turn up as it grows and the plant will produce a more sideways root system that is comparably strong to the vertical.

A note for either method. Just remember to remove the leaves that will be buried under the soil. The leaves cannot produce roots so they will rot if they are submerged in soil.

I will try to keep this article updated with any other information I forget. Good luck with your gardening adventure this season!


Choosing the Right Tomato Varieties

Choosing the right tomato seeds for your next gardening adventure is a combination of personal preference and evaluation of your growing space. If you want to buy organic seeds, buy organic seeds. If you do not think that is necessary, then buy any seeds you like. A question to ask on this topic is why buy organic? Simply put, it is to support organic farmers. Robert Pavlis over at Garden Myths breaks down the chemistry of organic and non-organic seeds quite nicely. Click here if you want to read more about this.

Moving on to what varieties to procure depends on your growing space. If all you have are some large pots to set on a porch to grow the juvenile plants then it is advisable to search for particular varieties that do not grow very tall and stay bushy. These varieties are denoted as “determinate.” Varieties that grow like vines and need supports to keep them upright are denoted as “indeterminate.” Indeterminate varieties are ideal for raised beds where you have enough room to set up supports. Can you still grow the more vine-like varieties in pots? Absolutely, but often that requires more individual support methods.

Of equal importance to choosing tomato varieties based upon the growing space is choosing tomato varieties based upon when you want mature fruit. Determinate varieties tend to produce all of their mature fruit within a couple week time span. With enough determinate tomato plants of the same maturity rate, this can lead to tomato overload. You know this point has been reached when your kitchen countertop is stacked high with nothing but tomatoes and you can’t use them fast enough before some start to get mushy. There are a number of ways to prevent tomatogeddon. Stagger tomato harvests by choosing determinate plants with different maturity rates. That way not all your tomatoes ripen at once and the harvest is not bottlenecked by the consumption rate. The other way is to forgo having 100% determinate varieties for indeterminate varieties. Indeterminate tomato plants produce mature fruit after the listed maturity rate all the way until the end of the growing season, often the first frost. The long harvest season provided by indeterminate varieties ensures that you will have fresh tomatoes almost whenever you need them. Chose any combination of determinate and indeterminate varieties that you desire. Take into account that indeterminate varieties, as a consequence of their growing habits, require more attention to grow and maintain.