How to Plant Tomato Seedlings

Spring Hail

Spring hail

This is such a fickle time of year in north Idaho.  One day we are basking in delightfully warm 70 degree temperatures; a tempting taste of the summer to come.  The next day we are greeted with hail, a whipping wind and 40 degrees.   While these swings in temperature rarely faze cool weather crops like peas or spinach, it can spell total disaster for the sun loving tomatoes.

Here are a couple of tomato planting tips to get your seedlings off to a good start.

  • Don’t plant before May 15th! This is the last average day of frost for our region. Tomatoes need a night time temperature of at least 50 degrees.   It’s easy to be lured into planting early, especially when the weather is warm and sunny…but don’t, you’ll just end up replacing your plants.   I usually plant around May 20th — some years it’s been June 1st.
Covered Raised Bed with Row Cover

A row cover will keep your tomatoes warm on cool spring nights.


  • Use a row cover , plastic milk jugs or hot caps to keep tender plants warm at night.  My plants go in the covered raised beds and will be covered until the night temperatures are consistently at 50 degrees.
  • Plant your tomato starts deep!  Tomatoes grow roots along their stems, so planting them deep ensures good root development.  When you get your transplant home, remove the bottom set of leaves and plant  to just below the next set.  Your tall plant may suddenly look shrunken, but you will be amazed at how quickly it sprouts up (and those roots grow out below the surface).  If your tomato starts are leggy (tall and thin) you can plant in the “L” method.   Dig an oval hole and lay the root ball and stem on its side, gently bending the stem up.  Be careful not to snap the stem.

    Black Plum Heirloom Tomato

    Remove the bottom set of leaves and plant deep.

  • Enrich your soil with a mixture of well rotted chicken or cow manure and compost.  Feed your seedlings a little fish emulsion cocktail about every two weeks for the first month, followed by an organic fertilizer like Tomato-Tone, once a month thereafter.
  • Love your tomatoes and they will love you  back with a bounty of juicy, homegrown goodness later this summer!

    A colorful tomato display

    A sample of the colorful tomatoes we grew in 2011.


What’s the earliest you’ve planted tomatoes?  Share your experience in the comments below!

Looking for Heirloom Tomato starts?  We have heirloom tomato plants available.  Find out more here.


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