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July 18, 2011

How to replant tomato seedlings

It is a third week of July and gardeners are busy preparing for the fall season. If you do not have any seedlings going, seed some tomatoes now. They take anywhere from four to six weeks to mature enough to be planted into the garden, and then about three months to give fruit. Our first frost usually comes around the second week of December in zone 9, and other zones accordingly , so you would want your tomatoes be done fruiting by the frost dates.

I seed my tomatoes in styrofoam "nursery" containers and after they show second leaves which are also called "first true leaves", they are replanted into the individual containers.

You should be careful about not exposing the roots of the seedlings to the sun, so the replanting is done, ideally, after the sunset. Carefully move the seedlings from the nursery container into some sort of a bowl and cover their roots with soil while you are replanting. I just hold the seedlings bunch with my hand while turning the nursery container upside down. Then I lower them into the bowl. Loosen up the seedlings so they separate from the bunch, fill a 16 ounce styrofoam cup with soil up to one-third, place the seedling into the cup holding it by the leaves, not the stem, and fill with the potting soil mix:

The soil should cover the seedling up to the leaves. One good thing about tomatoes is that they grow roots from the stem, so the more length you give them to grow the roots by covering the stem with soil, the better. Even if you have a brand new bag of potting mix and it feels moist, you should moist the styrofoam cup to the top. The best way to do that is to place the cup into some container filled with water and wait until the top of the surface feels and looks moist:

I usually plant around a hundred tomato seedlings of different varieties per season. Of course, not every seedling will survive, but that amount keeps our family well stocked with fresh tomatoes for eating, cooking and canning. Tomato plant produces on an average three to five pounds of tomatoes. To get even production plant different varieties according to their maturity dates; some tomatoes mature as soon as 58 days, others take longer, up to 120 days. Maturity dates are usually listed on a seed packet. Indeterminate (vining) tomatoes produce longer than determinate (bush) varieties.

When the seedlings in the cups are about four to six inches tall, they are ready to be replanted into the garden. From the cup to the garden it usually takes about a month. Set your cups in the dappled shade, preferably under a tree or a shade screen to filter the afternoon sun. The seedlings do not have an opportunity to send their roots into the coolness of the soil as they are confined in a small container. Keep them watered so that the surface of the cup is never dry. It might take daily watering if there is no rain. I normally use a garden hose on "shower" to give them a light bath and water thoroughly. Do not worry about overwatering; excess water will run off from the bottom of a container if you punched drain holes in it.


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