Tomatoes love warm weather. In fact, until the soil warms to a certain temperature, tomato roots won’t even grow. That’s why it often doesn’t pay to transplant tomato plants into the garden too early. In our region, the ideal tomato planting time is between about May 15 and May 25. Tomatoes are easily injured by freezing temperatures of 32 degrees. Tomato plants take a severe beating if battered by cold winds.
Besides planting in warm soil, there are a few transplanting techniques that improve tomato success:
- Before transplanting tomatoes into the garden, harden them off. That’s the gardening term for gradually exposing tender greenhouse-grown plants to outdoor weather conditions to toughen them up, which reduces transplant shock. Put plants in a wind-protected spot and gradually expose them to increased levels of sun and air for three to seven days. Hardening off makes plants tougher and less likely to suffer once they’re planted.
- If you’re anxious to get tomatoes planted and don’t want to delay while plants are hardened off, then protect plants after planting from wind and direct sun by placing a shelter around them. Old timers used coffee cans with the bottoms cut out. Plastic jugs can work. Especially anything that can offer wind protection. Remove protective materials after 5 to 7 days so plants receive full sun and good air circulation.
- Tomato plants are unique because they will produce roots all along the stem, if the plant’s stem is buried in soil. To capitalize on this ability, plant tomatoes deeply. Remove the lowest one or two sets of leaves and plant deeply so that only the uppermost part of the plant extends above soil. The roots that form along the buried stem create a stronger, healthier tomato plant capable of better production.
- If tomato plants are quite tall making deep planting difficult, lay the stem in a horizontal trench, gently curving the stem so the top extends above soil when the trench is filled.
- Deep planting with only the tops extending above soil prevents wind-whipping that commonly damages tall, gangly plants.
- Water thoroughly after planting.
- Water soluble fertilizer like Miracle Gro can be applied at planting time to encourage faster root formation.
- Mulching with straw or dried grass clippings conserves moisture and keeps soil more uniformly moist, which reduces blossom end-rot of tomatoes.
- Because tomatoes need warm soil, don’t apply mulch to soil until after soil has warmed well, which is usually about mid to late June. If mulch is applied too early, it keeps soil cold, which delays fruiting.