Transplanting Tomatoes

By National Gardening Association Editors

Transplanting is a major step. If you do it carefully, you can look forward to a crop that will be healthy and prolific. Rushing your plants into the ground before they're properly hardened off, or roughing up the tomatoes' roots when you're handling them can set the crop back. Read Hardening Off Transplants for more information on acclimating your seedlings to the great outdoors.

If you talk to other gardeners, you'll quickly get the notion there are as many methods, tips and tricks to the art of transplanting as there are ways of baking a cake. Read more about the relative benefits of trench and vertical planting before deciding which is right for you. Below are the basics upon which variations are based.
  • Plant your tomato patch on a sunny site. These heat-loving vines need at least 6 hours of direct sun to produce a crop, and the cooler and shorter your growing season, the more sun they'll need.
  • It's ideal to transplant on a cloudy, calm day to reduce stress from sun and wind, but if your plants have been exposed to these conditions during hardening off they should suffer little or no setback. Planting in late afternoon or evening allows plants all night to settle in before a full day of bright sun.
  • An hour before transplanting, soak roots with fish emulsion or seaweed fertilizer diluted as per label directions. Moist rootballs are easier to slip out of pots, and the fertilizer provides nutrients to support plant health during the transition.
  • Before taking plants from their pots, prepare the soil, add compost or fertilizer to trenches or planting holes, a full watering can or hose, and material for cutworm collars (see below) at the ready. Note: If you're using a water soluble commercial fertilizer, cover it with an inch or two of soil before setting the plants in place. If the fertilizer, which is made of soluble salts, comes in contact with roots, it can dehydrate and damage them. Read the fertlizer label carefully and use it only as directed -- more is not better!
  • Protect against cutworms. These ground-level pests can chew completely through thin tomato stems. Wrap a newspaper or paperboard collar around the "trunk" of each plant so that they span from an inch or two above the soil surface to an inch or two below. These biodegradable barriers last long enough for the stems to grow to the point where they can resist hungry cutworm.
  • Working quickly, cup the roots in one hand as you remove the transplant from its container, and tuck it into its home in the garden. A smooth and speedy transition from pot to soil means less shock to the plant.
  • Water well to settle soil around the roots, and don't let the soil dry out during this crucial transition time. A layer of mulch - straw, grass clippings, compost, and the like - helps prevent moisture from evaporating from the soil.

Other articles in this series:
1. Transplanting Tomatoes ← you're on this article right now
2. Trench & Vertical Tomato Planting Techniques
3. Staking Tomatoes
4. Trellising Tomato Plants

This article is a part of our Vegetable Gardening Guide for Tomatoes / Planting.

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