The season has just just begun, and gardeners are already reporting difficulties producing tomatoes from seed. There is, fortunately, plenty of time to start anew, which may be a good idea. Tomato seedlings emerge quickly and develop vigorously in warm, sunny circumstances, so planting seeds too early is pointless.
Tomatoes are the first veggie many gardeners grow from seed, mostly in pursuit of interesting varieties that are rarely available as seedlings. These are my top suggestions for growing tomatoes from seed to increase your chances of success.
1. Make a Clean Start
If you are reusing plastic cell packs, thoroughly wash them in warm, soapy water to remove previous grime and salts. Since I can put the variety names on the cups, my favorite containers are little paper cups with multiple holes punched in the bottoms. When the seedlings are ready to be transplanted into bigger pots, just peel away the softened cups and compost them.
Use a fresh bag of high-quality seed-starting mix as well. Avoid cheap imitations, which are often the cause of seedling failure.
2. Label Your Containers
Make labels out of utility tape or write variety names on them using waterproof markers. Labels are more effective than little stakes that move around amid the tomato roots and are easily misplaced. This was shown to me one year when a burst of wind collapsed the table containing hundreds of seedlings. Most survived with prompt repotting, but I had to guess which markers went with which tomatoes. Labels are more effective.
3. Plant Tomato Seeds Dry
The furry coating on tomato seeds softens and gummifies when water is added, which helps the seeds stick in place among soil particles. The seed coverings also release compounds into the soil, which improves growth conditions for the upcoming roots.
4. Water Wisely
To completely wet the seed starting mix, I use a pump spray bottle, which might take many hours. When the containers feel heavy with water, I cut shallow holes for the seeds with a pencil eraser and cover and push them in with my finger. Then I spray some more water on top. Use filtered water that has been left to gas off overnight in an open jar if you are unsure about the cleanliness of your water.
5. Tomatoes Need Warmth and Light
Tomato seeds should sprout in a week if maintained at a warm room temperature and sprinkled with water twice daily. Move the seedlings to strong light as soon as they break the surface. A full-spectrum grow-light is ideal, but a sunny window will do provided the seedlings are watched closely to make sure they don’t dry out.
6. Pot On in Stages
I like the phrase “potting on” for moving a seedling to a slightly larger container, which happens twice with my tomatoes. I transfer the seedlings to bigger paper cups or tiny plastic pots as soon as the first real leaf develops. Three weeks later, the majority of them must be potted on again.
7. Handle Tomato Seedlings With Care
Never touch the main stem of tomato seedlings, because the juicy tissues are easily bruised, and bruises serve as entry points for the fungi that cause seedlings to rot. The main stem also can be damaged if a seedling falls over, which sometimes happens when a weak-stemmed tomato seedling becomes top-heavy with new leaves. Sprinkle more seed starting mix around the base of leggy seedlings and push it in to prevent fall-overs. Leaners may be propped up with toothpicks or a wood skewer to help seedlings survive until they can be replanted.
Resist the temptation to put little tomato seedlings in huge pots, which may lead to the roots being overrun by soil microorganisms. It’s better to pot on seedlings to a slightly larger container as soon as you see roots growing through the bottoms of the containers.
8. Don’t Rush Hardening Off
Gradually expose your indoor tomato seedlings to more sunlight and wind. An opaque storage bin with the lid removed makes a good hardening-off chamber, or you can use a cold frame or protected plant shelf. Let at least a week for your plants to adjust to outside life.
Growing tomatoes from seed may provide excellent yields with a little preparation. Tomato seedlings that enjoy stress-free lives with no serious setbacks quickly adapt to garden life, and few things are more rewarding that harvesting sun ripened tomatoes from plants you started as tiny seeds.
What is the quickest way to germinate tomato seeds?
A: The test described in this article is the quickest technique to germinate a tomato seed. Put tomato seeds in a plastic bag between two folded moist paper towels. You’ll get tomato sprouts in about a week if you keep the bag slightly open to enable air to flow.
Should you soak tomato seeds before planting?
QUESTION: Do I need to soak tomato seeds before planting them? ANSWER: Soaking your tomato seeds before planting, or letting them sprout on a damp paper towel, can help increase the rate of successful germination, resulting in more healthy plants that make it to your garden.
Can tomatoes germinate in 3 days?
Tomato seeds should germinate within 5-6 days if you can keep the soil temperature around 80º F. Peppers need a bit more time and a little higher temperature (7-8 days at 85o F).
Do tomato seeds germinate better in the dark?
Seeds do not need light to germinate, but following germination, seedlings should be exposed to 14 or more hours of light every day. If you’re growing indoors on a windowsill, be sure to place pots in a warm, sunny spot that gets a good amount of natural light.