By Mindy McIntosh-Shetter
Tomato seeds that were planted in January are in a dire need to be moved to a new location.
A good way to tell if they are ready to be transplanted is if there are two to three sets of true leaves on the tomato seedlings.
If the plants have the correct number of leaves, it is time to move on up.
While one may feel the best approach is to move up to a very large container, this is not the best choice. A larger container provides too much room for proper root development. The best approach is to upsize to a 4 or 6-inch container.
Before doing the move, a soil mixture will have to be made. This is made from 4 parts compost, 2 parts peat moss, and 1 part each of vermiculite and perlite. Mix this soil mixture in a large bucket and place a cover over it until ready to use.
Next thoroughly wash the containers that are going to be used. Place them in a solution of one gallon of water to one cap full of bleach. Rinse the containers completely in clean water and place outside to dry in the bright sunlight. Allowing the containers to dry in the sunlight will sterilize the containers even more.
Once completely dry, fill the containers 1/3 to Â½ full of the potting soil mixture. Then, gently scoop out the seedlings from the flat or whatever container they were started in and place in the container. Try to keep as much of the original soil around the seedling as possible. Once the seedling is out, place in the new container and fill in with soil within Â½-inch of the top of the container.
Gently water the seedlings into their new home. Some gardeners continue this process one more time by moving the tomato plants up from a 4 or 6-inch pot to a gallon size. The belief is that it builds a stronger root system before placing in the ground but my opinion is that this is not needed especially if the plants are going in the ground early.
In recent years several new garden tools have made it easier to get the tomato plants into the garden earlier. One tool is plastic mulch. This mulch increases the soil temperature so that tomatoes can be placed in the garden earlier. It comes in several colors but red is the best. Red plastic has been found by some university studies to increase tomato yield.
Another approach is to use plastic cones that are filled with water. During the day the water inside these cones warms up and releases the heat at night. These cones are put over the tomato plants when they are placed in the ground. If using this approach, do not forget to remove these cones after the weather warms. The tomato plant can easily out grow the diameter of these cones.
Regardless if the tomatoes are going to be placed in the garden early, always transplant the tomato seedlings at least once before planting in the garden. So until we blog again, tomatoes are like humans who should use only what you need. While one may be tempted to move on up to the equivalent tomato mini-mall do not but instead upsize to a modest condo.