Starting Tomato plants using the Repotting Method

It’s important to start your seeds at the proper time and not to early. Plants started too early tend to get leggy and root bound. These plants take longer to recover when planted in the ground and may not produce as well all season long.

The proper time to start plants is about six to eight weeks before you last frost for vegetables and eight to 10 weeks before the last frost for flowers. Flower seeds grow more slowly thus take more time. The weather will also play a factor in the seedlings growth, but unfortunately we don’t have control over that.

I follow these guidelines for my plants except for hanging baskets, which are often indoors and for tomato plants.

Tomato plants are one of the few plants that benefit from re-potting and this method can create larger stronger tomato plants that produce early. If you start your tomato plants early you have to replant them and this does take time and soil, but to me its worth the effort.

Tomato plants using the re-potting method.

  • Decide what tomatoes you want to start early and how many. I will admit I grow too many tomato varieties. But I am tomato addicted and all the colors and verities add fun to the garden and table. I would choose nine to 12 plants for each variety. Extra plants can be given away.
  • I always start a few extra plants than I think I need so that I can select the healthiest plants.
  • Soak the seeds overnight.
  • Water your soil first and let it sit. Do not water the soil until it is soggy.
  • Plant the seeds the next day and either place them on top of the refrigerator or use a heating pad for heat from below. Tomatoes germinate better and grow stronger if you use extra heat from beneath. I have used this method for close to 10 years.
  • Your seedling should sprout in five to 10 days using heat from below.
  • Once the seedlings begin to grow add additional lighting at close range. This encourages compact growth. Plants that do not get enough light grow quickly and lean towards the light.
  • Water you seeding only when they are dry and its best to water from below. I set my plants in a tray with water and water them this way. Do not let the top of the soil become wet.
  • Use luke warm water for watering
  • If the topsoil becomes wet turn on a fan on low to dry it out or put additional lighting close to the plants.
  • I occasionally water the tomato plants with Chamomile tea. Chamomile tea has a natural disinfectant in it and it will help with soil mold (caused from soil that is too wet) if you have that problem.

When to repot

  • I repot the tomato seedlings when there are two true sets of leaves. The first leaf set is not leaf shaped and will fall off.
  • Move the tomato seedlings to a pot that is ½ -larger on all sides. (I use homemade paper pots)
  • When you repot place the plant deeper in the soil that it originally was. Tomato plants are one of the few plants that make roots on the stem if it is placed deeper in the soil. This is actually a good thing because it gives you a deeper root system.
  • I will replant my tomato plants up to five or six times before its time to set the plants out or into their permanent home.

Using this method you will have large sturdy plants that are often ready to start producing fruit. My plants are usually 2 to 3 foot in size by May and producing in June. Most gardeners in my Zone 5 growing area have their first ripe tomato in August.

1 Comment

  1. I am in Texas, and my tomato plants are still in their original 2 1/2 in. plastic pots. The Sweet 100’s have made about 8 tomatoes, and my full size (Celebrity? Early Girl?) plant has one large tomato. They obviously are very rootbound, and I plan to grow them at my apt. in the concrete driveway in pots. Should I plant them about 2 in. deeper in a pot that is about 6″ to start, and then move up to 8 or 10″, and eventually 12 or 16″? It’s already 100 degrees +/-. I plan to buy the Moisture retaining type potting soil. Should I add compost or peat or perlite, etc. Should I mulch in the pot? I’ve been screwing up and letting my plants stay in the orig. pots for yrs. now, and hoped I wouldn’t do it again this yr. I need some emergency first aid for these plants!

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