How to Plant Tomato Starts

Tomatoes are one of my favorite crops to grow in the summer garden. If cared for properly, one plant will supply you with an abundance of fruit! I so enjoy watching the first tiny fruits appear, grow green, and slowly transition to their ripe colors.

I’ve written quite a bit of information about growing tomatoes. Such as: How to Cage Tomato Plants, How and Why to Prune Tomato Plants, How to Save Tomato Seeds for Next Year, and much more!

For us, the whole tomato-growing process begins in February when seeds are started indoors. Read more about The Basics to Starting Seeds Indoors, A Guide to Caring for Indoor Seedlings, How to Harden Off Seedlings, and 5 Tips for Transplanting Seedlings to the Garden. If you’ve already gone through all of those processes, you’re ready to plant those starts in the garden!


Continue reading if you’d like to learn some tips and tricks for planting tomato starts in the garden. Everything you need to know is right here: choosing healthy starts, when to plant them, how deep to plant them, how much space to give them, watering tips, and the importance of supporting the plants. I’ve also listed a few more gardening resources if you’d like more to read!


Choosing Healthy Starts

  • Straight and sturdy
  • 6 to 8 inches tall
  • 4 to 6 leaves present
  • No yellowing, brown, or crinkled leaves

When to Plant

Time of Year:

Wait until your last frost date has passed for the season (find your last frost date here) and nighttime temperatures have risen above 55 degrees F.

Time of Day:

Early morning hours are the most ideal time to plant tomato starts (5-10 a.m.). This gives them a little more time to adjust to the new environment before the heat of the day sets in. It also allows more water to seep down to the roots without being evaporated by sunshine.

Depth

Tomato plants have the ability to grow roots along their stems, so plant them deeply! Aim to plant right up to the base of their leaves as this will give them a solid foundation for growing. This is especially nice for starts that are a little leggy and prone to blow around in the wind!

Spacing

Tomato plants will need to be planted about 3 feet apart from one another when caging them in. This will allow for enough room for you to move between the cages to gather fruit.

2 feet apart is sufficient if you choose to use stakes instead of cages. Just know that you may end up needed to add more stakes as the plants grow.

If leaving the plants unsupported, you’ll need to allow for 3 feet between plants and 5 feet between the rows so they have plenty of space for spreading out.

Watering

After planting your tomato starts, give them a nice drink of water along with fertilizer. Be sure to aim the water towards the base of the plant rather than all over the leaves. Wet foliage can make the plant more susceptible to disease and fungus.

Caging or Staking

Now is the best time to choose what kind of support you’d like to give your tomato starts. We prefer our homemade cages because they are extremely durable, strong enough to keep the plant and fruits upright, and inexpensive to make yourself.

You can read all about How to Cage Tomato Plants right here!

Other options include stakes with durable twine, funnel cages from the hardware store, collapsable cages, or leaving them unsupported.

Why Tomato Plants Thrive When Supported:

Tomato plants are natural climbers, but they are not great at supporting themselves.

Unlike cucumbers, tomatoes do not have tendrils, so they can not twine around a structure without some help. They tend to lean on anything around them as they climb, so cages are great at keeping them upright.

Cages provide support all around the plant so that no side has the option of falling over. The plants will end up sprawled all over the ground if not caged in. This can make the fruit and plant more susceptible to pests, disease, and rotting.

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