Transplanting tomato seedlings a second time will only make them stronger. This is because if you bury the tomato stems once more, it will cause them to produce even more roots. If the plant has more roots, then it will be healthier and stronger and more resistant to pests and diseases.
How and why burying tomato stems gives you more roots
Tomatoes can grow new roots along any part of their stem.
If there is enough moisture and light, the roots will come out of the tiny bumps (which are also called root initials or tomato stem primordia, which is the earliest stage of root development) and can grow without soil.
If you live in an area with high humidity or you’re prone to overwatering your tomato plants, you may have seen the bumps on the leaves turn white and become more prominent.
Advantages can be taken from the fact that tomato stem primordia appear easily.
If you partially bury the stem of the tomato plant when you transplant it a second time, the plant will be more anchored in the soil and more roots will be encouraged to form. Having a greater mass of deeper roots helps your tomato plant be more resilient against wind, drought, pests, and diseases.
How many times should you transplant tomatoes?
If your tomatoes are still developing and you started them early from seed, it’s a good idea to repot them two to three times. The roots of the plant grow up to one inch per day.
Transplanting tomatoes may cause them some stress, but they will recover quickly. Transplanting actually helps them grow.
How big should a tomato plant be to transplant?
When transplanting, you should wait until your tomato plant reaches a height that is three times that of its current container. If you are moving your plant from a 4-inch pot to a bigger pot, wait until your plant is 12 inches tall so that there is enough stem length to bury.
The progression of pots should go like this:
- Seed starting pots (or soil blocks)
- 4-inch pots
- 1-gallon pots
- Final container or garden planting
The size of the final container for tomatoes should be 10 gallons for determinate types and 20 gallons for indeterminate types.
If you are planting tomatoes in the ground, you should plant them 18 to 24 inches apart.
Can you transplant tomato plants with fruit?
You can transplanted tomato plants that have fruit or flowers. So long as the plants have enough room in their pots and aren’t root bound, they should be able to handle being transplanted.
Remove all the flowers and fruit from your young plants if they are already loaded with blossoms. This will give them a better chance of surviving a transplant.
Even though it may seem strange, a young plant that is already flowering and producing fruit is actually reacting to stress. The plant is focusing all its energy on creating seeds so that it can produce the next generation of plants. This focus on producing tomatoes means it is not growing new branches and leaves as much.
If a young plant flowers and fruits at an early stage, it might not grow as much or it might not produce as many fruits. Pinching off the flowers before you transplant them helps them focus on vegetative growth so they can photosynthesize and grow strong and tall before it starts to flower abundantly.
When to Plant Tomatoes Outside?
Tomatoes are very sensitive to cold. A frost will damage the plant, it might not kill it but it will set it back. Tomatoes should never be planted before the last frost date if you want them to grow and produce properly, as they are a hot weather crop that needs the heat to thrive.
To find your last frost date, you can search it on Google. Where I live, it typically doesn’t frost after April 15, so I never set my tomatoes outside before this date.
Some gardeners check their soil temperature to ensure that it is ideal for transplanting. This is a good method too. To read the temperature of the soil, you insert a kitchen thermometer into the ground. The ideal soil temperature for transplanting tomato plants is 60 degrees Fahrenheit or above.
Where to Plant Tomato Plants?
In order to have a successful plant, you need to make sure it gets full sun for at least 8 hours, but 10 hours would be even better. This can be done by either keeping it in a large container or planting it in the garden.
Make sure to not plant tall varieties of tomatoes (indeterminate tomatoes) in a way where they would shade other plants.
If you want to grow viny tomatoes, you’ll need to either build or place a tomato cage or trellis in a spot that will allow your plants to have the support they need.
Tomatoes are considered heavy feeders. They prefer soil that is well-drained and has a pH of around 6.5, which is similar to what other garden vegetables and fruit need.
The more organic matter you have in your soil, the healthier your tomatoes will be. However, even if you prepare your soil well before planting your tomatoes, I would still recommend feeding the plants at least twice during the growing season.
I do this naturally, using worm castings and fish emulsion fertilizer.
Tomatoes can also absorb a lot of calcium from the soil. Even if you have good soil with the correct pH for tomatoes, it is still recommended that you add extra calcium at planting to avoid any problems with blossom end rot.
When the bottom of your tomato is rotting while still on the vine, this is called blossom end rot. It’s devastating, really! As you reach for a ripe, red tomato in the garden, you find that it is covered in mold and instantly regret trying to harvest it.
I’ve found that it’s difficult to correct this problem once the plant has already started producing tomatoes. Adding calcium when planting makes it easier to prevent problems later. This is simple to do.
So let’s recap…
- Well-drained soil.
- Rich in organic matter.
- pH of 6.5.
- At the time of planting, add calcium to the soil as well as organic plant food.
- Feed twice more during the growing season.
How to Transplant Tomato Seedlings…
Step 1: Harden Your Tomato Seedlings…
To harden seedlings, slowly acclimatize them to spending time outside and expose them to the elements so they can get used to the drastic change in environment.
After that, we can put them in full sun. The hardening process is when you take the plants outside and place them in partial shade for a few hours on the first couple of days, then in full sun.
After a week of gradually increasing the time the plants spend outside, they can be left outside the whole time. Make sure you keep an eye on the water levels in the small pots that your plants are in – they can dry out quickly.
Step 2: Build Your Trellis…
If you are growing indeterminate tomatoes, it is best to build your trellis before transplanting the tomato plants. When the plants are in your way, it is much harder to do.
I use metal posts, plastic posts, and metal rods to build my tomato trellis. I then plant the tomatoes under the trellis. I use a string to support each tomato plant by tying it to a stake or rebar next to the plant. As the plant grows, I trim it and wrap the string around the vine.
You can place the cage or stake after planting the tomatoes if you’re using tomato cages or determinate tomatoes that only need a stake for support.
Step 3: Gather Everything That You Need…
Next, gather everything you need. Obviously, you are going to need your tomato plants. After that, be certain to have worm castings in order to nourish the plant with organic matter (keep in mind that tomatoes are insatiable growers), as well as lime (to stop blossom end rot by adding calcium).
Make sure you have gloves, scissors, or clippers to clip the lower leaves, and a tool to dig the hole with. A deep hole is needed, so grab something that is comfortable for you to work with.
Step 4: Clip the Plant’s Lower Leaves…
My tomato plant that I started indoors is now large enough and has been going through a process of gradually getting used to outdoor conditions for about a week.
It is a variety called Matt’s Wild. It’s a tomato plant that produces a lot of clusters of small tomatoes. They are smaller than cherry tomatoes, just a little bigger than a grape. I eat grapes as a snack, my kids eat them right off the vine or I pick them and throw them in a salad.
We are going to clip the lower leaves and plant them deep in the ground in order to help the plant develop a strong root system. The deeper the better. More roots will grow out of the fuzzy tomato stem that is under the soil, which will help support the plant as it grows.
Step 5: Dig a Deep Planting Hole…
Once the plant is ready, dig a deep hole. Add half a 3/4 cup of worm castings to the bottom of the hole prior to planting.
About 3/4 of a cup of lime should be added to the hole. Do you remember that tomatoes take a lot of calcium from the soil? Lime is ground seashells. If you add lime to your soil, it will add calcium and prevent your tomatoes from developing blossom end rot.
Ground lime cost $4 for a 50 lb bag. Well worth it in my opinion. This lime won’t have an immediate effect since it will take some time to break down. That’s okay though since it will be a few weeks before my tomatoes start growing.
You can also use gypsum or Tums instead of lime. Tums are the tablets that people take for heartburn. You can put three or four at the bottom of the hole. Lime is cheaper, so I use lime.
Maintaining a eggshell supply throughout the year by saving and adding them to your garden soil will help promote growth. Although they are high in calcium, they take a long time to decompose.
I’ve head that some people put an entire egg into the hole where they plant their tomatoes and crush it with a trowel before planting the seedling. Many people report great success with this trick.
A side note here… Blossom end rot is not exclusive to tomatoes. We see this same problem with peppers, eggplants, and melons, so we do the same thing for all of them.
Step 6: Plant Your Tomato Seedling…
Carefully remove your plant from its container and set it in the hole. Be sure that the plant is at the same level in the ground as it was in the container.
Place the plant in the hole and cover the entire plant up to the top leaves.
Next, make sure you water well. I use drip irrigation in my field but I usually plant right before a rainy day so that my plants will have enough water. By watering the ground around the plant thoroughly before planting, I can be sure that the plant won’t be damaged by too much heat immediately after it is placed in the ground.
Tomatoes need space. Make sure the distance between each plant is 18” to 24”, and that the rows are at least two feet apart.
Step 7: Mulch Your Plants…
The most important part is to cover your plants with straw. This is the difference between dead and live plants, in my experience. The wood chips in my garden act as a mulch to help protect the plants, but I still use straw when I transplant young plants into the garden.
Hardening your plants means getting them used to being outside, but they will still be shocked when you plant them in the garden. Transplanting shock is a real phenomenon.
This is hard work, my friends. I spent a lot of time building a trellis and planting all my seedlings in the field. I’ve been growing them indoors for weeks, so it would be devastating to lose them a couple days after transplanting them into the garden.
I cover the whole plant, except for the top leaves which I leave poking out just a bit. If the sun is too strong, the straw provides shade for the plant and helps it deal with the harsh sun.
If it is not warm, the straw protects the plant from the cold by insulating it (especially at night). It also prevents the ground from drying out around the new roots that are still not strong enough to find water on their own.
For the home gardener, it is practically a necessity to use straw when transplanting any plant.
That’s it, we are done. All that is left to do is watch the tomato plants grow. I help the plants grow by pruning them and tying them to the top of the trellis. I will feed the plants twice with fish emulsion before they set fruit and make sure to keep the caterpillars away.
Before you know it, the time will come to pick tomatoes!