Tomato Care Guide

When to Plant Tomatoes

  • If you’re starting tomatoes from seed, you’ll want to start your seeds indoors 6 to 8 weeks before the average last spring frost date.
  • Harden off seedlings for at least a week before transplanting them outdoors. Learn more about hardening off seedlings.
  • Transplant to containers or to the garden after your last spring frost, when the soil is warm. See our Planting Calendar for approximate transplanting dates.

How to Plant Tomatoes

  • Select a site with full sun and well-drained soil. For northern regions, is is VERY important that your site receives at least 6 hours of sun. For southern regions, light afternoon shade will help tomatoes survive and thrive in the summer heat.
  • Two weeks before transplanting seedlings outdoors, till soil to about 1 foot and mix in well-aged manure, compost, or fertilizer. Learn more about preparing soil for planting.
  • Establish tomato stakes or cages in the soil at the time of planting. Staking keeps developing tomato fruit off the ground, while caging lets the plant hold itself upright. Some sort of support system is recommended, but sprawling can also produce fine crops if you have the space, and if the weather cooperates.
  • Plant seedlings two feet apart.
  • Pinch off a few of the lower branches on transplants, and plant the root ball deep enough so that the lowest leaves are just above the surface of the soil. New roots will grow from the stem underground, helping to anchor the plant.
  • Plant on a partly cloudy or overcast day, if possible; this will reduce the shock of being exposed to full, hot sunlight.
  • Water well to reduce shock to the roots.

Care

  • How to Grow Tomatoes
  • Water generously for the first few days after planting.
  • Water well throughout the growing season, about 2 inches per week during the summer. For the best tomatoes, it’s important to keep watering consistent!
  • Mulch five weeks after transplanting to retain moisture.
  • To help tomatoes through periods of drought, find some flat rocks and place one next to each plant. The rocks help to prevent water in the soil from evaporating.
  • Fertilize two weeks prior to first picking and again two weeks after first picking.
  • If using stakes, prune plants by pinching off suckers so that only a couple stems are growing per stake. Learn how to build stakes and other tomato supports here.
  • Practice crop rotation from year to year to prevent diseases that may have overwintered in the soil.