Tomatoes are warm season perennials grown as annuals in home gardens. These robust plants show vigorous growth and produce abundant fruit packed with antioxidants, making them the most popular vegetable in home gardens. Although they can be direct sown in southern climates, setting out seedlings once nighttime temperatures remain above 55 degrees Fahrenheit extends the gardening season, allowing tomatoes to ripen on the vine in most areas. Soil preparation and proper transplanting technique boosts growth and production.
Prepare soil by tilling to depth of 10 to 12 inches. Remove any rocks, roots or other debris and rake smooth.
Select healthy seedlings. Look for short stocky plants with deep green foliage. Tall leggy plants are often a sign of inadequate light or being grown under crowded conditions. These plants break easily when transplanted and are more susceptible to transplant shock.
Dig a hole in prepared soil to a depth of 8 inches and 1 foot in diameter. Add 2 qt. of compost or well-rotted manure. Mix in with the existing soil. Pour a gallon or more of water into the hole and allow to drain into the soil.
Remove the tomato seedling from the pot or tray using care not to disturb roots. Peat pots can be planted directly in the soil. Gently tearing away the bottom of the pot may speed the formation of new roots, but is not necessary.
Place the root ball at one side of the hole and gently lay the stem in the trench working the top 3 to 4 inches of the seedling upward. Fill in around the plant with soil and pack firmly with your hands. The top 2 to 4 inches of the seedlings should be above the soil. Stems planted under the soil develop roots along the stem, creating a strong root system.
Trace a circle in the soil around the tomato plant 8 inches from the stem. Sprinkle 5-10-10 fertilizer around the circle, following the application rate on the package. Mix into the soil. This provides a slow-release fertilizer for growing tomatoes.
Water thoroughly to moisten soil. Keep soil evenly moist until vigorous new growth appears. Water when soil dries once established seedlings show signs of growth.