Tomatoes are probably the #1 crop grown by home gardeners in the USA. Even people who hardly garden will often grow one or two plants in a planter. People grow tomatoes with varying degrees of success.
I’d like to suggest a few ways to help with the transplanting process.
Most people start with transplants. In our upcoming course on tomatoes we will show you how to start from seed. Still, even when one starts from seed, it is generally true that the seedlings then get transplanted into their permanent place in the garden. Most home gardeners purchase plants. This is simply skipping the step of starting from seed.
#1 Wait to put tomatoes into the garden until the soil is fairly warm.
It’s generally accepted that the soil should be 60 F during the day and no lower than 50 F. at night. If it’s too cool, the little plants will languish and, sometimes, sicken. Every year I hear of people transplanting their tomatoes into the garden at some outrageous time, as in a warm spell in January. DON’T DO IT! Your plants will thank you for waiting. Later transplants, which are put out under favorable conditions, frequently outstrip the “early birds” by a long shot. You may be tempted to skip measuring soil temperature. Who uses a thermometer anyway?! Well, it does work, but if you don’t care to use a thermometer, watch for the weeds to suddenly start growing at an outrageous pace. Warm weather weeds like lambsquarters and poke weed will begin sprouting. Also, go out into the garden on a sunny afternoon, loosen up some soil, and feel it. If it’s cold to touch DON’T transplant tomatoes yet.
#2 You may wish to protect against cutworms.
Cutworms are caterpillars which hang out under the soil surface, coming out at night to cut plants off at the ground. To do this, they have to curl completely around the stem of their victim. If they can’t, they cannot cut it down. Look closely at the above picture. I’m placing a small twig right alongside the tomato’s stem. Often I’ll put a twig on either side of the stem. This helps prevent cutworm damage. Others will cut 1 1/2″ pieces of plastic straw, split them, and slide them over the stem of the plant, forming a barrier against cutworms. Anyway, you might consider some preventative measure, or… have a few extra plants on hand.
#3 Plant the transplants deeper than they were in their original pot.
If possible, plant them on a slant, and cover the stem almost to the first set of leaves. This helps the tomatoes to form more roots, in the warmer, upper layer of soil, thus giving them a bit of a boost.
If you’d like to treat yourself to a wonderful tool for planting transplants (and weeding) consider a Korean Homi. With a homi, planting deeply is a snap. I also use this very same tool, quite a bit when planting sweet potato slips or harvesting root crops. You can find these tools through various companies. My favorite is Lee Valley Tools: Lee Va.lley Tools: Ho-Mi Digger .
Finally, one last tip:
#4 As soon as you transplant into the garden, mulch your tomato plants.
“Mulch” just means that you lay something over the bare soil. Even freshly pulled weeds will do. Straw, leaves or grass clippings are even better. If possible, put down a layer of cardboard or six layers of newspaper, and then add your mulching material on top of that. This will help suppress weeds, but if you don’t have paper or cardboard, mulch with whatever you can. You see, tomato plants are very susceptible to a number of fungus’ and bacterial leaf diseases. If you leave your transplants in newly disturbed garden soil, without any mulch, a heavy rain may come up, splashing soil onto their leaves and infecting them with one or more of these diseases. Do yourself a favor, mulch your tomato transplants right when you put them out.
Another tip from the homestead,