Growing tomatoes involves more than simply starting tomato seeds inside in late winter with the hope of growing big, juicy tomatoes in next summer’s garden. Once tomato seeds germinate and seedlings begin to grow, proper care and adequate light must be provided to grow the best tomatoes. Take the time to provide tomato seedlings with optimal growing conditions to produce robust plants ready for transplanting to your tomato garden in the spring.
Watering Tomato Seedlings
Tomatoes require moist soil for optimal growth. Check your tomato seedlings daily and water to keep the soil moist, but avoid over-watering. Although tomatoes thrive with adequate water, soggy soil chokes out the oxygen to the plants roots and invites disease. Tomato seedlings grown in peat pots or pellets face less danger of over-watering as their porous nature allows water to drain freely. Avoid allowing tomatoes grown in plastic trays or cells to sit in a water-filled tray. Empty the tray 20 minutes after watering to avoid developing soggy soil and damaging seedlings.
Tomato Seedlings Require Sufficient Light
Proper lighting is vital to growth of tomato seedlings. Although many gardeners attempt to grow tomato plants on a sunny windowsill, light is often inadequate resulting in weak leggy plants. Supplemental lighting provided by plant lights boosts growth and produces hardy vigorous seedlings ready for transplanting in spring.
Making you own grow lights is relatively easy and requires one or two shop lights. Suspend shop lights from chains or rope so that the light rests 2 to 4 inches above the top of seedlings. Lights must be adjusted upward often to keep them at a consistent level above the plants. If adjustable lighting poses difficulty, place boxes on top of the plant shelves or growing tables and place seedlings on the elevated area. Gradually lower the tomato plants as they grow taller. Invest in a timer to turn lights out to provide tomato seedlings with a rest period for 6 hours a day.
Fertilizing Tomato Seedlings
Seed starter contains little nutrients for growing plants. For vigorous growth, provide supplemental fertilizer to tomato seedlings. Once seedlings reach a height of 4 inches, begin a regimen of fertilizer on a weekly basis. Purchase a water-soluble fertilizer designed for seedlings and mix to ¼ strength. Apply to moist soil. Avoid the temptation to over-fertilize your tomato seedlings. The goal is to produce healthy, robust plants. Over-fertilizing may damage young roots and seedlings.
Pinching Tomato Seedlings
Once your tomato seedlings reach a height of 6 or 8 inches, selective pinching out new growth creates compact plants. Use your thumb and forefinger to gently squeeze out new center leaves. This forces new growth along the stem and prevents tall, leggy tomato seedlings.
With proper care and attention to lighting, watering and fertilizing tomato seedlings, tomato plants grow sturdy stems and healthy green foliage ready for transplanting into the garden when soil warms and all danger of frost has passed. The time and care you invest in your seedlings is well worth the effort.
Watch for new articles by this author for tips and techniques for growing and caring for tomato plants that produce abundant fruit.
Growing Tomatoes: Seed Starting
Growing Tomatoes: Preparing the Soil