Growing tomatoes from seed begins the same way regardless of climate: choose the optimal time to plant in relation to your last frost date, start the seeds inside, then transfer the seedlings after germination.
Nevertheless, where and how tomato seedlings are transplanted may be the difference between a mediocre tomato plant and a staggeringly prolific tomato plant that can hardly keep up with you.
So, what is this secret of growing larger and better tomato seedlings from the start?
Transplanting seedlings into larger pots before transplanting them into the garden.
And you can do it while you wait for the soil outside to warm up. This is how!
What are the benefits of repotting tomato seedlings?
If you simply want to get things moving, repotting tomato seedlings may seem like additional labor, but there’s a purpose for it: this extra step lets you to take advantage of their astonishing ability to develop roots along their stems.
Tomato seedlings are unique in that they like their stems buried deeply. They may produce new roots (called adventitious roots) along their stems, allowing the plants to grow more aggressively.
Indeed, if you live in a humid area, you could have spotted adventitious roots growing above ground from little bumps (nubs) on the stem.
(I call them “air roots,” because contrary to popular belief, the fuzzy hairs on the stems do not grow into roots — they carry the oils that give tomato leaves their characteristic scent.)
Absolutely, each of those lumps has the potential to be a root!
If given adequate moisture and sunshine, these roots will continue to develop and can even plant themselves in the soil if they grow long enough.
Transplanting tomato seedlings deep in the soil encourages adventitious roots, resulting in a bigger and stronger root system that will absorb more nutrients and anchor your plant once it is planted.
When should you repot tomato seedlings?
Tomato seedlings are ready for transplanting when they reach 3 inches in height and have their first true leaves, which are the second and subsequent sets of leaves that develop.
The initial leaves that sprout (called cotyledons) are embryonic structures from the seed that give sustenance until the seedling can manufacture its own food.
Cotyledons normally fall off after a few days, when the actual leaves emerge and begin photosynthesis, paving the way for adult development on the plant.
You should also pot up leggy tomato seedlings to keep them from stretching any further and growing pale and spindly. Burying the stems will strengthen them and foster the formation of new roots.
How to repot tomato seedlings in 4 easy steps
Step 1: Gather the supplies you’ll need to repot your tomato seedlings.
Begin with clean 4-inch pots and high-quality potting mix that has been pre-moistened (you can also make your own potting mix at home).
Please do not skip this step. Peat-based potting mixes are difficult to wet thoroughly when they’re completely dry, and you could end up with uneven moisture or water that just drains out the pot without being absorbed.
Some individuals may snip out the other seedlings and maintain just the strongest seedling in the same pot to avoid disturbing the roots during transfer.
Tomato seedlings may be easily separated without injury if they are transplanted before they become root bound (especially if all the seedlings appear healthy).
Step 2: Remove the seedlings from their seed starting pots.
While working, water your seedlings to loosen the potting mix and keep the roots wet.
Unroll your seedlings if you started them in newspaper pots. The roots should be nicely developed but not twisted around each other.
Step 3: Separate the seedlings.
Handle tomato seedlings by their leaves rather than their fragile stems. If a leaf falls off, it will most likely regrow. Nevertheless, if the stem breaks, your seedling is doomed.
Separate the seedling by gently pulling on its leaves and wiggling it away from the potting mix. The roots should come out effortlessly.
Let the wet potting mix to adhere to the roots to keep them from drying out.
Step 4: Place a seedling in each pot and bury the stem up to its lowest set of leaves.
Place the tomato seedling in the middle of the pot, so that the bottom set of leaves is level with the container’s rim.
Fill the container halfway with pre-moistened potting mix and carefully massage it around the seedling to secure it. Tap the pot a few times on your work table to settle the potting mix, and add more as needed until the pot is filled to the top.
Water the seedling well until it drains freely from the bottom.
Steps 1–4 must be repeated for the remaining seedlings.
4 tips for taking care of your tomato transplants
1. Let your transplants acclimate under dappled light or party cloudy weather.
Keep your tomato seedlings out of direct sunshine for a day or two to reduce transplant shock. Try to pick a period of calm weather so your transplants aren’t subjected to downpours or strong winds right away.
2. Don’t overwater your seedlings.
Tomato plants are easily overwatered, so keep the potting soil just damp at all times. Water deeply to reach the roots at the bottom (or soak pots from the bottom up), and only water again when the first inch of the soil feels dry to the touch.
3. Feed your tomato seedlings with an organic fertilizer.
Tomato plants are voracious eaters even when they are this little (plants that need a lot of nitrogen and other nutrients to thrive).
Begin by feeding tomato seedlings with liquid fish and seaweed emulsion (which provides an immediate boost of nutrients) or top dressing them with granular vegetable fertilizer (which releases nutrients slowly over several weeks).
The most delectable, flavor-packed fruits you’ve ever eaten… not the largest tomatoes… or even the tallest vines…
4. Transplant your tomato a second time for better root growth.
Before being transplanted in the garden, a tomato plant may be repotted two or three times, each time with more of its stem submerged.
Putting the plant into a bigger container at each stage of growth (for example, from a 4-inch pot to a 1-gallon pot to a 3-gallon pot) promotes the roots to continue branching out and forming a strong, healthy mass.
Follow my advice on why and how to transplant your tomato plants a second time after your seedling has grown to three times the height of its container.
How many times should you repot tomato plants?
How many times should tomatoes be transplanted? If you started your tomatoes early from seed and have some time before they go in the ground, it’s a good idea to repot them two or three times as they develop. Their powerful taproots may develop up to 1 inch every day, resulting in a larger and stronger root system.
How big should tomatoes be before transplanting?
three to four inches tall
When tomato seedlings are three to four inches tall and have three or more sets of leaves, they are ready to transfer from the seed starting trays and into a bigger container. They should be transplanted into a larger container at least four weeks before planting outdoors so the root system has a chance to develop.
How many tomato plants can you put in one pot?
one tomato plant
How many tomato plants can I grow in a single pot? It’s important to only grow one tomato plant per pot, no matter how large it seems when they’re still small. What is this? They have big, spreading roots that need a lot of nutrients and water.
When should you give up tomato plants?
When should you quit eating tomatoes? In around August / September, (depending on where you garden in the country and the growing season,) it is necessary to “stop off” the tomato plants. This entails pinching off the growth tips at the top of the plant to prevent it from developing any further.