Time to start tomato seed

Start from seed

Starting tomato plants from seed provides a much larger selection.
Starting tomato plants from seed provides a much larger selection. | Source

Try these full flavored heirlooms

When to Start Tomato Seed

The short answer is 6-8 weeks before your last frost date. Check with the local University Extension center to find the last frost date for your area.

You have plenty of time to order and start your own tomato seed. Starting seeds 6-8 weeks before last frost is a guideline, not a rule. Tomatoes can't go into the garden until the soil warms up. So starting seed in March or early April, is OK.

Note the last expected spring frost date on your calendar.

For me, in Southeast Missouri zone 6A, that day is the Ides of April, Tax Day, or my sister's birthday.

The recommendations suggest that it takes about 6- 8 weeks to produce a healthy transplant from seed. Aim for 6 weeks.

The room temperature, light source, the growing medium and moisture all affect the growth of the tomato seedling. The seedlings should be grown in a warm area and receive at least 12 to 16 hours of sunlight daily.

The goal is to produce 6 – 8 inch tall plants ready for the outdoors about 2 weeks after the last frost date. So, count 4 – 6 weeks back from that last frost date. The plants should be grown in a warm area and receive 12 to 16 hours of sunlight daily.

Hold back, don't start your seedlings too early. A few weeks late is better than a few weeks early.

Check the date

The goal is to produce 6 – 8 inch tall plants ready for the outdoors about 2 weeks after the last frost date.

Choose an early tomato variety

Stupice tomato plant thrives in cooler weather, producing the first tomatoes of the year.
Stupice tomato plant thrives in cooler weather, producing the first tomatoes of the year. | Source

Seed starting time

Start seeds too early and the plants will become weak, leggy and root-bound. This will set your transplants back a couple of weeks as they struggle to recover when planted.

Start seeds late and you can have a delayed crop, although healthy transplants may catch up because of the warmer soil and weather. 
This guide is the same for all tomatoes.I choose to grow heirlooms for that rich, old-time taste that is sometime bred out of newer hybrid.

Plan to plant tomato seedlings outdoors 1-2 weeks after the last frost date. Waiting longer to plant after the last frost date will reduce the chance of losing the weeks of growing your tomato crop to a late freeze.

Here are a few more sites to find what your last frost date:

National Water and Climate Center (NWCC) has all the information that a garden and weather geeks ever wanted.

The Old Farmer's Almanac or, The Weather Channel

Seedlings require 12-16 hrs of light

Gently brush your hand across the tops of the seedlings to grow sturdy stems. Here seeds are started in an Aerogarden.
Gently brush your hand across the tops of the seedlings to grow sturdy stems. Here seeds are started in an Aerogarden. | Source

Small and early tomatoes

  • Cherry - Riesentraube - is an indeterminate, producing bunches of small fruit all summer. Originally from Germany, 'Riesentraube' translates from the German as "giant bunch of grapes". Each of the little tomatoes has a pointed blossom end.

Riesentraube (Solanum lycopersicum) produces about 75 days from transplant. These are larger than the most well known cherry tomatoes.. Provide sturdy staking or caging and the plants will keep growing and producing until frost.

  • Early - Stupice - Indeterminate. Potato-leaved vines to 4 feet. Very well-flavored 3-6 ounce fruits, good yielder even in cooler weather. Originally introduced in the West by Czech Milan Sodomka who obtained the seed from a Czech breeder. Widely grown in this country since 1976. 52-85 days

Try black tomatoes for complex flavor

Black tomatoes - Carbon in front, Black Krim on the scale, are winning more and more taste tests for their rich, complex flavors.
Black tomatoes - Carbon in front, Black Krim on the scale, are winning more and more taste tests for their rich, complex flavors. | Source

Sweet Pineapple tomatoes

Firm and meaty golden slicers mottled with red. Some slices are solid yellow.
Firm and meaty golden slicers mottled with red. Some slices are solid yellow. | Source

Main season tomatoes

  • Granny Cantrell - Indeterminate. Named after Lettie Cantrell, who grew this tomato from seed she received from a soldier returning from Germany after WWII. Lettie said it was the only tomato she grew. She saved seed from the largest tomatoes each summer. Some tomatoes can reach 2 1/2 lbs. Tasty. 75-85 days.
  • German Johnson - Indeterminate, 1 to 1 1/2 lb, regular leaf, beefsteak type slicer. Heavy yielder, excellent rich flavor with few seeds. A Southern heirloom, believed to be one of the parents of Mortgage Lifter. Consistent taste test winner. 80 days.

3 beautiful bicolors

  • Old German - Indeterminate fruits weigh up to one pound. Outstanding taste, meaty with few seeds. What Old German lacks in production, it makes up in flavor and beauty. 75 days
  • Pineapple - Indeterminate 1 pound yellow slicers streaked with red. Regular leaf, beefsteak, old fashioned flavor is sweet and fruity. Good yield. 90 days
  • Gold Medal - Indeterminate, 1 pound, regular leaf, beefsteak: slicers. Blemish free, lovely, yellow fruit with red radiating from the blossom end. Solid, sweet and mild. Low acid. 85 days.

Where to buy: Find seed in a number of sites. A few dependable seed sources to get started: Baker Creek, Territorial Seed, Renee's Garden

Hefty and firm Pineapple tomatoes have few seeds.

Bicolor Pineapple tomatoes are yellow tomatoescc streaked red  with old fashioned taste.
Bicolor Pineapple tomatoes are yellow tomatoescc streaked red with old fashioned taste. | Source

Win the first tomato contest

Go with the smaller tomatoes and those bred in colder climates to win the first tomato of the year in your neighborhood. Stupice put me a full 3 weeks ahead of the neighborhood competition.

Growing tomatoes known to thrive in cool weather may only be possible if you start tomato from seed.

Lay down black plastic over the garden soil. Tomatoes to best in warmer soil. A plastic sheet will draw heat into the ground. Cover or protect plants from the odd late frost. Tomato plants will not survive a freeze, regardless.

Stake or cage tomatoes early. Provide well worked soil with plenty of organic matter. After the soil is well warmed, mulch to help maintain consistent moisture.

More heirloom tomatoes to consider

Best Home Garden Tomato: Royal Hillbilly - almost a cult following, this tangy-sweet flavor is that pure old-fashioned tomato taste many folks are seeking.

Best Home Garden Tomatoes: Chocolate Amazon - nonstop producer of chocolaty-red midsize tomatoes.

Best Home Garden Tomatoes: Granny Cantrell German beefsteak - Big pink beefsteak typ tomato averaging about a pound each.

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Comments 15 comments

Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 21 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

liesl5858 Thank you for your comments. It is cold here too. In a couple of weeks, my kitchen table will be covered with tomatoes, eggplant and peppers seedlings. It would be fun to follow each others garden progress.


liesl5858 profile image

liesl5858 21 months ago from United Kingdom

Hi! Patsybell, I suppose it's that time of the year when we start our gardening again. I have not started growing anything yet as it has been so cold here in the UK but the last few days, it started to get warm. Thank you for your tips about growing tomatoes.


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 21 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

aesta1,

Grow tomatoes in containers. I grew two tomatoes, each in a five gallon bucket. The buckets sat in my little red wagon all summer. I could roll the wagon of tomatoes into the garage at night. If the cottage has lots of shade, a wagon, will allow you to follow the sun. Moving to be in the sun for the longest time.


aesta1 profile image

aesta1 21 months ago from Ontario, Canada

I wish I can plant tomatoes in the cottage. The squirrels and raccoons will harvest them for me.


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 21 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

ChitrangadaSharan, I would love to know what kind of tomatoes are most popular where you live. What are your favorite flowers? Thank you for the vote up. It makes all the difference.


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 21 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

peachpurple, together we can grow any kind of tomato we want. Please ask any tomato question you have. I am happy to help.


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 21 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

sujaya venkatesh, I am honored to have have a poet read my hubs. Thank you.


ChitrangadaSharan profile image

ChitrangadaSharan 21 months ago from New Delhi, India

This is quite helpful. I was searching for some guide about growing tomatoes. I would follow your instructions. Thanks for sharing this useful and informative hub.

Voted up!


peachpurple profile image

peachpurple 21 months ago from Home Sweet Home

I wish my tomato will grow well like yours


sujaya venkatesh profile image

sujaya venkatesh 21 months ago

easy to grow


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 23 months ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

sujaya venkatesh Thank you, I appreciate your comments. If you have questions, please ask. If you have any advice, please share that too.


sujaya venkatesh profile image

sujaya venkatesh 23 months ago

timely and useful hub


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

I have seven new varieties this year along with my standard tomatoes... I am very excited to see what does well this season!


Patsybell profile image

Patsybell 4 years ago from zone 6a, SEMO Author

I'm trying a dozen different tomato varieties; one each. Probably in August, I'll be screaming "What was I thinking!"


davenmidtown profile image

davenmidtown 4 years ago from Sacramento, California

Hi PatsyBell! What a great hub. I just started my tomato seeds two days ago using the last frost date as my reference. I am so very much looking forward to summer tomatoes!

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