How to Plant Tomato Starts


Tomatoes are warm-season vegetables, so the seeds cannot be planted out to the garden until all frost danger has passed. Purchasing tomato starts or growing your own indoors from seed allows you to get a head start on the gardening season. These plants are already established and growing well at the beginning of the gardening season. They must be transplanted correctly, otherwise they are susceptible to disease and stress which can damage the tender seedlings.

Step 1

Set the tomato starts outside in a protected area during the daytime, beginning seven to 10 days before planting directly in the garden bed. Gradually move the plants out of the protection over the course of the week, allowing the transplants to adjust to outdoor conditions.

Step 2

Apply a 2-inch compost layer over the entire garden bed. Work the compost into the top 6 inches of the soil with a hoe.

Step 3

Dig the planting hole deep enough so that one-half to three-quarters of the plant's stem is under the soil surface. Sprinkle 1 tbsp. of 5-10-10 fertilizer in the bottom of the hole and cover it with a thin layer of soil.

Step 4

Set the tomato start into the planting hole. Strip off any leaves that sit beneath the soil surface. Fill in around the plant with soil, firming it lightly in place with your hands.

Step 5

Water the soil thoroughly after planting, moistening it to a 6-inch depth. Thereafter, water the plants once a week until the soil is dampened to the 6-inch depth.

Tips and Warnings

  • Do not plant the starts outdoors until after the last frost date. Even a light frost can kill tender tomato starts. If a late frost is predicted, cover the plants to help prevent damage.

Things You'll Need

  • Compost
  • Hoe
  • Trowel
  • Fertilizer


  • Washington State Extension: Growing Tomatoes in Home Gardens
  • University of Illinois Extension: Tomatoes
Keywords: planting tomato starts, transplanting tomato seedlings, gardening tomatoes

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.