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How To Start Tomato Seeds Indoors

Updated on December 27, 2015

Starting tomatoes from seed will allow you to open up a door of endless possibilities. Sure it would be easier to just walk into the local nursery or home center and pick up a few tomato plants, but at what cost? These stores only carry a handful of the most popular plants such as "Big Boy" and "Early Girl". These are great choices for an ordinary tomato gardener, but this is your tomato garden, and it's gonna be extraordinary dammit!

Unless you plant from seed, your tomatoes will taste just like every other tomato grown on your block. Set yourself apart this summer and try a new variety like the "Black Krim" or "Lemon Boy". Because most tomatoes require a long growing season, it is best to start tomato seeds indoors. Raising tomatoes seeds is easier than you think, just follow these simple steps:

  1. Choose Your Tomato Seeds. First, you must decide which type of tomatoes you wish to grow. From tiny cherry tomatoes such as the dime-sized "red currant" to huge beefsteaks like the "Goliath", there are tons of options to choose from. Most tomato gardeners enjoy planting several different types each season, allowing for a delicious variety come harvest time. Once you've decided which types of seeds you would like to start, be sure to purchase quality seeds from reputable dealers. Try to avoid buying seeds that are more than 3 years old, as the germination rate may begin to decrease over time if the seeds were not properly packaged and stored.
  2. Decide Which Type Of Containers You Will Be Starting Your Tomato Seeds In. Just about any shallow container can be used to start tomato seeds, as long as it allows for proper drainage and has a depth of about 1-3 inches. If you decide to reuse food or plant containers, you will need to sterilize them first to prevent bacteria from harming your tomato seedlings, and to promote healthy plants. These containers can be sterilized by washing them with a solution of 90% water and 10% bleach. Consider spending a few bucks for a complete seed starting kit. These kits are designed to maintain proper heat and humidity levels, come complete with a growing medium, and will allow you to easily transport and transplant your seedlings.
  3. Choose A Quality Seed Starting Mix. If you are using a starter kit which includes the growing medium, just follow the instructions that came with your kit. Otherwise you will want to purchase a bag of sterile seed starting mix from your local home and garden store. Avoid ordinary garden soil, because it will compact too easily, and could house organisms that will threaten your tomato plants with the risk of disease.
  4. Know When To Sow Your Seeds. Start your tomato seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before you plan to transplant them outside. As a rule of thumb, your tomato plants should be transplanted into your garden about a week after the last frost date for your area.
  5. Sow Your Seeds. Tomato seeds should be sowed about 1/8 to 1/4 inch deep into moistened seed starting mix. Pat the soil lightly with your hand to ensure the seed is in proper contact with the growing medium. Seeds can be sowed close to one another, because you will be transplanting them to larger containers once the first set of true leaves has formed. Light is not required during the germination process, but is not harmful as long as extreme heat is avoided. The optimal temperature range for proper germination is 70-80 degrees Fahrenheit. The soil should be kept moist at all times during the germination process, but not soaked or over-saturated. A tomato seed will not germinate if it is dry. Given these proper conditions, seeds will germinate and seedlings will emerge in 5-10 days.
  6. Once Seedlings Have Emerged, Give Them Adequate Light. For healthy plant development your seedlings will require about 16 hours per day of bright light. A heated greenhouse is ideal, but when that is not an option, many home gardeners choose to put seedlings under fluorescent lamps. A south facing windowsill is another option, but could cause problems, such as cold drafts presenting dangers associated with frost.
  7. Transplant Your Baby Tomato Plants Into Larger Containers. When the true leaves (second set of leaves) have formed, it is time to transplant them into bigger, deeper containers. It is critical to do this in a timely fashion in order to prevent root constriction and allow for healthy development of your plants root system. 6" peat pots are recommended, because they can be planted directly into your garden when that time comes. Alternatively you could use large (12 or 16 oz.) plastic or paper drinking cups, but these will have to be carefully removed to prevent root damage which could be detrimental to your plants success. Fill your new containers with some potting soil, and with your finger make a whole in the middle deep enough to bury the baby plant up to it's true leaves. Fill any surrounding voids by sprinkling potting soil in them, and lightly pat the soil down to ensure proper root contact.
  8. Continue Caring For Your Plants Until It Is Time To Plant Them In Your Garden. Give your maturing plants a deep watering, and allow the potting soil to nearly dry before repeating. Maintain proper light and temperature conditions as explained earlier. Gradually adapt your plants to their future environment by placing them outdoors on nice days. Start off by allowing your plants an hour or so outside, and slowly increase the amount of time they are left outdoors until it is time to plant them into your garden!



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    • Dave Cald profile imageAUTHOR

      Dave Cald 

      8 years ago

      Absolutely Barkley, Egg cartons are great for starting tomato seeds, but there are a couple of things to consider. First, if you are using a styrofoam carton, you will want to poke a small hole or two on the bottom of each cell to allow for proper drainage. Secondly, if possible try to use large, extra large or jumbo egg cartons, as the cavities in medium egg cartons I think are a little less than 1.5 inches deep, which is border-line for the depth required for tomato seedlings to develope healthy root systems for transplant.

    • Barkley Rosehill profile image

      Barkley Rosehill 

      8 years ago from Philadelphia

      Can I start my tomato seeds in an egg carton?


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