Monday, 7 May 2018

Potting-on tomato plants

My method of raising tomato plants involves a lot of "survival of the fittest". I always sow a lot more seeds than ought to be necessary. Imagine (as is in fact the case) that I want to grow 18 tomato plants. I sow 72 seeds, 2 in each of 36 little pots. This year I used 3" pots.

Notice that the one at Left Rear has only one seedling, but others have two

They don't usually all germinate, so this reduces the number straight away. If both seeds do germinate, the stronger seedling is selected, and the other is discarded. So let's say I now have 36 seedlings. At around this time they get transferred to bigger pots (this is called "potting on"). I did this task a couple of days ago.

Tomato plants now in 5" pots

In this photo you can see the difference in size of the pots - 3" in the foreground, 5" behind.

So now I have 36 good seedlings, which hopefully will survive the shock of transplanting and go on to establish themselves strongly in the fresh compost. Immediately after transplanting, they do tend to droop a bit, so I put them in the shade for a few hours until they have perked up.

For the next few days, these plants will be kept overnight in my big coldframe and brought out into the fresh air each morning, so that they gradually become accustomed to living outdoors. This process is called "hardening-off".

If as forecast we get a spell of decent weather now, these plants will probably grow rapidly, and will be ready for potting-on again, into their final containers, in mid- to late-May. At that point, I will select the best plant of each type once again. The others will be retained for a while, until I'm sure that the "A-team" ones have settled in OK, then they will probably be given away.

This year I will be growing 12 tomato plants in 35-litre black plastic containers, like these:

They will mostly be big plants, grown as cordons, but this time there will also be some dwarf varieties whose seeds I was generously given by the renowned Craig LeHoullier, from the USA.

I also plan to grow 4 plants of the trailing bush variety "Maskotka" in plastic boxes inside my tall wooden planter, in the same way as I did last year. It is a method that worked very well.

The final 2 plants will also be bush-style plants - "Montello" - and they will go in containers like these, originally marketed as "balconnieres".

Just for the record, my 18 plants will be these:
Mountain Magic
Alaskan Fancy
Bumblebee Sunrise
Super Marmande
Cherokee Chocolate
Dwarf Caitydid
Dwarf Beauty King
Dwarf Barossa Fest
Maskotka x 4
Montello x 2


  1. We usually plant excess tomato plants into the ground on the plot where if they avoid blight they boost our tomato crop.

  2. When you move the tomato plants into their permanent spots, do you set them deeper than what they are in the small pots?

    1. Yes, I normally do. That way the plants develop extra roots that come out of the main stems. And in any case, it makes the plants more stable!

    2. Thanks!
      You are going to laugh at this, but I bought my tomato plants based on their name - Super Fantastic! Supposedly a good tomato for slicing. Only time will tell if they live up to their name or if it is just advertising hype. I do have a planter and pipe system to water them from the bottom so that should help.
      Happy Gardening!

  3. Do you no longer use balconnieres? I see you have only two. Do you have a reason? Thanks

    1. I do still have 12 balconnieres, but I'm not using them for tomatoes this year, because I feel they are not quite big enough. The big Beefsteak tomatoes in particular need something very substantial! The photo is an old one, btw.

  4. I too will plant some Dwarf varieties of Tomatoes as an experiment this year in Southern Kansas, zone 6. We have had a very cold April, well below the normal temperatures. I have had to resort to warming water filled teepees to safeguard the tomato transplants I originally planted from seed on February
    16. I also planted almost all heirloom varieties as I am going for taste over production. I read Craigs book and used many of his choices in reagards to taste. Cherokee Chocolate, Cherokee purple, Ferriss Wheel, Sun Gold, Biaginios 2, Lillians Red Kansas Paste, Lillians Yellow Kansas Paste, Yellow Pear, Celebrity (for production), Mexico Midget(as a snack in the garden), and the Dwarfs:Dwarf Sweet Sue, Dwarf Mr. Snow,New Big Dwarf and lastly a free packet of Egg Yolk. 70 % of these being trasplanted into 15(60 ltrs.(?) and 5 gallon (20 ltr.(?) fabric containers. And using zinc plated goat panels with rebar support poles as trellis. Enjoy watching your progress through the year. Now I wish i had extra property to plant veggies. Happy growing

    1. Hi Greggo! It's fascinating to hear about all the different tomato varieties that people grow and the methods they use to nurture them. I think lots of people here in the UK would be puzzled by "zinc plated goat panels with rebar support poles", but I'm fairly sure I can picture your setup![A piece of wide-mesh wire with a metal pole??]

  5. What we do to get to get our tomatoes! I sowed 24 to get 12 but it was touch and go and it was stressful when they were tiny seedlings. Lovely massive marmande type Albenga and good solid sweet Shirley bless her. Not the fun of your huge range!


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