When and How to Transplant Tomato Plants
Transplanting or replanting tomato plants is the process where the plant is re-potted from one location to another. This process usually takes place after the plant has been started from seed in optimal growing conditions.
There are many benefits to transplanting tomato seedlings, but the most important is the fact that you can control the growing environment and maximize your garden space.
Although transplanting may seem like a straightforward process, in reality, it's a bit more complicated than you might think. First of all, it is crucial that you understand the differences involved in transplanting your plants from one container to another and transplanting from a container into the garden.
When Should You Transfer Your Tomato Plant to Another Container?
Let's first look into when you need to transplant your seedling into a larger container. There are a few reasons why you would want to transplant your seedlings from the container where they germinated to a secondary container:
- To provide each tomato plant a container of its own.
- To move it to a larger container, because the roots have no more vertical room to grow.
- To move it to a larger container and at the same time bury the plant right up to the first leaves, providing the plant the opportunity to develop a better root system.
Don't Water Before Transplanting
Do not water your plant on the day you plan to transplant it. This makes the soil stick to the root and increases the likelihood of the roots breaking while transferring.
How to Transplant Tomato Plants From One Container to Another
Before you do anything, it's important to remember that you should not water your tomato plants on the day you wish to transplant them to a new container. The wet soil has the tendency to stick to the roots. Wet soil is also heavier, increasing the likelihood of the roots breaking while you transplant.
Having avoided that mistake, here is how to transplant your tomato plant from one container to another:
- Fill up the larger container with a moist potting mix.
- Scoop out a hole in the center of the new container, so that you can easily lay the tomato plant into the hole.
- Get the tomato plant out of the original container by holding your fingers around the stem of the plant and flipping the container over. (You can watch the video below for a helpful visual.)
- If you have multiple plants, separate them from each other, while making sure to hold the plant by the leaves and not the stem. You do not have to separate the soil from the roots. If some soil falls off, you have absolutely nothing to worry about. Just make sure that you do not break off the roots.
- Place the individual plants into their new containers by burying the free stem, leaving the first leaves just above the soil. (Do not let the leaves touch the soil.)
- Finally, water the new plants and place them on the windowsill, or maybe in your case under the grow lights.
When Should You Transfer Your Tomato Plant From a Container to the Garden?
You should only transfer your plant from a container to the garden if it is already around 4–5 inches tall and the outside temperature is above 50–55 degrees Fahrenheit at night.
Additionally, you should only transplant a tomato plant into the garden after you have hardened it.
How to Harden Your Tomato Plant
Hardening off tomato plants is the process of acclimating your tomato seedlings or young plants to the outside environment before permanently planting them into the ground or permanently leaving them outdoors (if you grow tomato plants in containers). This process usually happens over a period of at least one to two weeks.
Here is how to do it:
- Find a sheltered place outside that gets a few hours of direct sunlight. Try to make sure that this spot does not have very strong winds or crosswinds that could damage the plant.
- On the first day, take the tomato plants outdoors and place them in this spot for two to three hours before taking them back inside.
- On the second day, leave them outdoors for a little longer. At the same time, place them in a spot with more hours of direct sunlight.
- Do this for around five days. On the sixth day, leave the plants outdoors overnight. Just make sure that there is no danger of frost when you do this.
- On the seventh day until the day you plant them into the garden, place the plants in spots that get around 10 hours of sunlight.
What about people who need to go to work and can't be home to take their plants back in after two hours? In that case, find a spot that does not receive a lot of direct sunlight and let your plants be out until you get home from work. This is not the best way to do it, but you might have to do it anyway if you have no other option.
Note: Hardening is something that you need to do not just for tomato plants, but all plants that were initially grown indoors. This is done to prevent the plants from dying of shock or getting sunburnt from their harsh new environment.
How to Transplant Your Tomato Plant From a Container to the Garden
It is crucial that you get the first steps right when planting your tomatoes in the garden. This is especially important if you are growing an indeterminate variety, as they need a very strong foundation.
Follow these steps and you should be good to go:
- Space them out: First, find out how much space you require around each tomato plant. The seed packets of most suppliers specify the full-grown size of the tomato plant. If there is no specification on the packet, you should do your research online. The necessary distance between the base of the two plants is usually specified. If not, figure out what is given to you and do the simple mathematics. Failure to provide sufficient space will result in your plants competing with each other for space and sunlight, the end result being fewer tomatoes.
- Mark the ground: Once you know the required spacing, mark the spots on the ground where the tomato plants are going to be placed.
- Dig holes: Dig holes into the ground that are as deep as the container, plus the additional bit of the stem you wish to bury. I highly recommend that you bury a part of the stem up to the leaves.
- Create more stem to bury: If you have a lot of foliage and your plants are tall, I would suggest cutting off the bottom leaves on a sunny day. The next day (once the open wound is healed), place the plant into the ground up to the leaves. Make sure that you do not let any leaves come in contact with the soil.
- Stake the soil: Before you actually place the plant into the soil, place tomato stakes into the soil. This prevents you from damaging the root system.
- Place the cages: If you decide to support the plant using cages, place the cages immediately after you transplant the plants. Placing at this time—rather than when you actually need the support—prevents you from damaging any new roots that develop.
- Water the plants: After the successful transplantation of the tomato plant, make sure that you provide it with sufficient water. At this point, you may be interested in reading more about watering tomatoes to prevent diseases and root rot, while also providing the best growing conditions.
- Mulch the soil: Finish the process with a layer of mulch on the top of the soil.