Knowing the best time to plant tomatoes is vital for a successful crop. Most tomato varieties need 100 days from transplant to reach maturity and produce fruit before the first frost ends the growing season. This means proper timing when to transplant and start tomato seedlings indoors is crucial.
The time to move seedlings of tomatoes is when the soil temperature reaches 60 degrees Fahrenheit, which usually occurs 4-6 weeks after your area’s average last spring frost date. Planting too late means fewer days to maturity and set fruit. In northern zones, gardeners aim to plant for determinate and indeterminate tomatoes in early June to the middle of the month.
Gardeners in warmer climates like zone 10 can often safely transplant tomatoes later, even into early August. No matter your location, you need to plant before the first fall frost date and count backward from there based on the days to maturity.
In our guide, you’ll learn about the latest date you’ll want to transplant your tomatoes into garden beds or containers to maximize yield before the end of the season. By the end, you’ll better understand more than just how many days from seed to harvest; you’ll know how to care for plants in the ground or plants in pots. (Read Trees With Dark Purple Leaves)
When to Transplant Tomato Seedlings
Knowing when to transplant your tomatoes is vital to getting a successful crop. Tomatoes require warm soil and air to grow well, so the timing depends on your last expected frost date. Most gardeners transplant tomatoes outdoors 4-6 weeks after the average last frost date for their area.
In northern zones, it’s best to start tomato seeds indoors 6-8 weeks before the last frost so plants are a decent size when it’s time to transplant. Gardeners in warmer zones can often sow tomato seeds directly in the garden a few weeks before the last frost.
How Long Do Tomatoes Take to Grow?
The days to maturity for tomatoes depend on the variety. Cherry tomatoes can mature in 60-75 days from transplant. Standard tomato plants will get to adulthood at around 70-90 days, while large beefsteak types often need 100 days from transplant to harvest.
Is Late June Too Late to Transplant Tomatoes?
For most areas, late June is pushing it pretty late to transplant tomatoes. Count back 100 days from your average first fall frost date – that’s about the latest you’d want to set out transplants. Later, the plants won’t have enough warm days left to ripen fruit before the season ends.
When is it Too Late to Plant Your Tomatoes?
Most gardeners agree tomatoes are able to grow in the ground no later than around the fourth of July, even for fast maturing varieties. By mid-July, there often isn’t enough warm growing time left for the plants to mature successfully.
However, late planting dates can vary by region. Zone 10 gardeners may be able to plant tomatoes in August and still get a fall crop. Check with local gardeners or your extension office to learn how to get the last day to plant on; the last day is a given number of days before your first frost in your area. (Learn How Long To Run A Soaker Hose)
How Late Is Too Late to Plant Tomatoes?
Depending on the temperature and where you live, you can plant tomatoes as late as late April or early May. But it’s important to think about how many days to mature it takes for the type of tomato you want to put to grow and the temperature and weather in your area.
Hardiness zones and indoor/outdoor planting
Understanding your hardiness zone is crucial when deciding between indoor and outdoor tomato planting. Planting and transplanting tomato seedlings outdoors after the last frost date is recommended in colder zones.
This ensures they have time to grow and mature before the first frost in the fall.
Early-season tomatoes (grow in under 50 to 70 days):
- Early Girl (57 days) – A popular early-season tomato variety that matures in just 57 days.
- Patio Choice (45 to 50 days) – A compact tomato plant that grows in containers and produces ripe fruits in 45 to 50 days.
- Tumbler (50 to 60 days) – A trailing tomato variety perfect for hanging baskets, yielding ripe tomatoes in 50 to 60 days.
- Early Doll (52 to 60 days) – A fast-growing tomato cultivar that develops ripe fruits within 52 to 60 days.
- Early Wonder (55 days) – A quick-maturing tomato variety that offers ripe tomatoes in as little as 55 days.
Mid-season tomatoes (grow in 70 to 80 days):
- Atkinson (75 days) – A mid-season tomato variety that takes around 75 days to reach maturity.
- Beefsteak (75 days) – A classic tomato cultivar known for its large size, typically ready for harvest in 75 days.
- Better Bush (72 days) – A compact bush tomato plant that produces medium-sized tomatoes in approximately 72 days.
- Big Boy (78 days) – A popular mid-season tomato variety with large fruits that ripen within 78 days.
- Bonny Best (70 days) – A mid-season tomato cultivar that matures in 70 days, offering good yields and flavor.
Late-season tomatoes (grow in 80 days or more):
- Beefmaster (80 days) – A late-season tomato variety known for its large, meaty fruits that take around 80 days to ripen.
- Big Johnny (80 days) – A late-season tomato cultivar that produces large, flavorful tomatoes within 80 days.
- Crimson Giant (90 days) – A late-season tomato variety that develops extra-large, deep red fruits in approximately 90 days.
- Rutgers (80 days) – A well-known late-season tomato cultivar that reaches maturity in around 80 days, is known for its exceptional flavor.
- White Beauty (84 days) – A late-season tomato variety with beautiful white fruits that become ripe within 84 days.
Note: The provided list includes both early-season, mid-season, and late-season tomato varieties, along with their approximate days to maturity.
Risks When You Transplant Your Tomatoes Too Late
Planting tomatoes too late in the season can pose several risks. The plants may not have enough time to establish a strong root system, resulting in poor growth and yield.
Additionally, late-planted tomatoes are more susceptible to transplant shock and may struggle to adapt to their new environment, leading to wilt or other diseases.
One area overlooked is that of pollination. Later in the season, the weather can be too humid, so pollen doesn’t reach onto the female part of the plants growing. (Read Do Deer Eat Sweet Potato Vines)
Tips for Planting Tomatoes Late
If you want to plant tomatoes late in the season, here are a few tips to remember.
- Choose varieties with a shorter time to maturity, like cherry tomatoes or early varieties.
- Provide extra care to young plants by using tomato cages or stakes for support.
- Ensure the soil is warm enough and amend it with organic matter to provide necessary nutrients.
Tips to Protect Tomato Plants from the Cold
While you don’t plant too late, sometimes the cold arrives sooner than expected. To protect tomatoes outside from cold temperatures, consider using frost blankets (available from the garden center) or cloths, which can be draped over the plants at night.
Placing containers of water near the plants can also help retain heat. Bring tomatoes indoors overnight or move them to a sheltered location if growing tomatoes in pots.
Freezing temperatures can hurt plant roots, but planting tomatoes in containers with good drainage can help avoid this.
Here’s a step-by-step plan to keeping tomatoes from getting cold:
- Use frost blankets or cloths: You can put these over your plants at night to keep them warm and keep them from freezing.
- Put watering cans near the plants: Putting buckets near the tomatoes can help keep them warm because water keeps heat. This is very helpful in places where the temperature drops a lot at night.
- Bring tomato plants in pots inside or move them to a protected area: If you are growing tomatoes in pots, it is easier to bring them inside overnight or move them to a protected area, like a barn or porch, to protect them from the cold.
- Use row covers or old sheets: You can protect your tomatoes from unpredictable frosts by using row covers or old sheets. You should use these in the evening when the sun isn’t a problem.
- Think about getting a cold frame or making a greenhouse: If you have the room and money, you can build a greenhouse for your tomatoes to give them a controlled environment. You could also protect the plants from cold weather and strong winds with a cold frame made of recycled glass or wood.
For mature plants kept in pots outside, it is easy to move them indoors. You can also cover them with non-woven polypropylene if temperatures don’t dip below 32 degrees. Upside-down hanging planters are a good option if you frequently move your tomatoes.
Step-by-Step Guide to Plant Tomatoes Outside
Planting tomatoes in the ground requires careful spacing and preparation to ensure optimal growth and yield. Following these steps, you can successfully plant your tomato seedlings and provide them with the conditions for healthy growth.
Step 1: Determine Spacing and Layout
- Measure 18 inches between plants to allow sufficient space for each tomato plant to grow.
- Create two rows in a 4-foot-wide garden bed to maximize the planting area.
- If using 4-foot-wide beds, consider making DIY tomato cages narrower to accommodate an extra row in each bed.
Step 2: Prepare the Planting Hole
- Using a trowel, dig a hole in the ground where you will be planting. For plants outside, plant two feet apart for each seedling. Plants need space as they grow to avoid disease and pest infestations.
- Once the hole is dug, pour a generous amount of water into it to thoroughly soak the area.
- Add a handful of organic garden fertilizer to the hole during this step, providing essential nutrients for the growing plant.
Step 3: Tomato Transplant and For Tomato Seedling
- Gently remove the tomato seedling from its container, carefully not damaging the delicate roots.
- Break apart the root ball slightly to encourage the roots to spread outward rather than grow in a circular pattern as they did in the pot.
- Place the tomato seedling into the prepared hole, ensuring it is planted at the same depth as in the container.
- There is no need to water the seedlings again, as the root ball is already soaked from the water added to the planting hole. (Read Can Chickens Have Eggplant)
Step 4: Determine Placement for the Next Seedling
- Use a measuring tape to accurately measure the distance from the planted seedling to the desired location for the next tomato seedling.
- This step ensures consistent spacing between plants, allowing each seedling to receive adequate sunlight, airflow, and nutrients.
Knowing your average last spring and first fall frost dates is vital when deciding when to transplant tomatoes. Count backward from the first fall frost based on the days to maturity for your variety.
Late June is pushing it for many areas, but fast-maturing tomatoes planted in early July may still produce depending on your climate. Start seeds indoors and transplant them outdoors on a schedule based on your local conditions for the best results.
What is the best time to transplant tomato seedlings outdoors?
The best time is generally 4-6 weeks after your average last spring frost when soil and air temps have warmed. Aim to transplant and plant tomatoes in late May for most zones.
How far apart should I space my tomato plants?
Space determinant types 18-24 inches apart. Indeterminate tomatoes need 24-36 inches between plants, depending on variety.
How long does it take to grow tomatoes from seed?
It takes 6-8 weeks to grow transplants big enough to plant out. Then, allow the maturity time for your variety, typically 70+ days.
Can I plant tomato seeds directly in the garden?
Yes, in warm climates with long seasons, you can sow seeds 1-2 weeks before the last frost. Cover with cloches until sprouted.
What can I do if my tomato plants are too big to transplant?
Gently remove the root ball, keeping as much soil intact as possible. Bury the long stems or lay the plant on its side to allow roots to re-establish.