The Q&A Archives: Tomato Seedlings

Question: I started my tomato seedlings the last week of January and I'm afraid it was too soon. They appear to be in good health but I don't think I'll be able to get them into the ground before they begin to blossom. Can they be salvaged? I don't have a greenhouse and am growing them under lights in my basement. I'm hoping I don't have to start all over again.

Answer: In your region you should be able to plant your tomatoes outdoors by the end of April or first of May. You did start them too early (it's hard to wait for spring!), but you may still be able to salvage them. Keep the light source about 6" above the tops of the plants. If they get spindly, lower the light fixture to within 4" of the plants. It doesn't matter whether they blossom or not, but if they do you may be able to hand pollinate the blooms so you'll have tomatoes really early in the season. When the soil begins to warm up outdoors harden your plants off by putting them outside in a protected area during the day and bringing them in at night. After about a week of this treatment they should be ready to plant outdoors. If the stems are overly long, lay the plants on an angle, or on their sides so that part of the stem is buried in the soil. This will encourage the plant to grow roots all along the buried stem and give you short, sturdy plants. Next year, wait until late February or early March to start your seeds!

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