Growing tomatoes from seed can be straightforward and very rewarding if a few hints and tips are followed.
The first consideration is timing – when to sow.
Tomato Seeds should be sown during March and April indoors, for growing outdoors and in unheated greenhouses in the UK.
By the beginning of May, it is too late to start tomatoes from seeds in the UK, you will need to buy plug plants or pot-ready plants to have a harvest before the cold autumn weather begins and tomato growing ends.
- The cherry varieties are among the easiest to grow and the quickest to mature. They’ll grow in hanging baskets and large pots etc. so they are also good if you have limited space.
- Feeding with tomato food is unnecessary until the plants start to fruit – that’s about three months from sowing, so there is plenty of time.
- Don’t stand them outside in the rain – they don’t like wet leaves and try not to keep watering them as too much water will result in poor root growth.
- Buy seeds now for sowing in March and April.
- A small bag of new seed & cutting compost is fine.
- A few 3inch or 3.5inch pots, and a propagator (optional).
Which Tomato Seeds Should I Buy?
A tumbling variety like Tumbling Tom for hanging baskets, large pots and containers. A tall variety like Alicante for grow bags.
Here’s an even easier way to get started growing tomatoes from seeds, by using a tomato sow pot which is a tomato growing kit – see video below.
Tumbling Tom is a bush/cherry variety that trails over the sides of containers and hanging baskets, Alicante is a tall type for growing up against a wall etc. with cane support and will produce medium size fruit. See similar varieties below.
You won’t need the hanging baskets, large containers or grow bags until later in the season.
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Choose an easy variety to grow.
- Tumbling Tom (Top Choice)
These are all cherry varieties and are usually earlier to ripen than the larger ones. The earlier they are to ripen, the less exposure they will have to disease and bad weather!
Bush varieties will also grow in containers and large pots and can be moved around the garden, patio or moved under cover if the weather is poor. Large plastic pots are very useful because they are light if you want to move them.
Sow seeds eight to ten weeks before the last frost in your area.
My last frost is around the end of May so I’ll begin sowing seeds around the middle of March.
Seeds are sown indoors and the seedlings are kept in a light position.
Seeds are sown indoors in seed trays, small pots or propagators and kept in a warm place so that the seeds will germinate 18-21c.
The small seedlings are kept in a light position in a sunny windowsill, porch, conservatory or greenhouse at about 15-18c.
They will be fine as long as they don’t become too cold or too damp. Don’t over-water seedlings, especially if temperatures drop near freezing at night.
Seedling and small plants don’t need extra food.
All the food that young plants need can be found in good quality compost bought from the garden centre.
As plants grow and are potted-on into bigger pots, they also receive more compost, and therefore, more food.
Full strength feed can damage young roots. Tomato food is usually given after plants have started to produce fruit – when they are around three or four months old.
Those who wish to grow tall tomato varieties should also choose varieties that are easy to grow. Here’s a small list of a few good ones.
- Moneymaker – medium red
- Golden Sunrise – medium yellow
- Gardener’s Delight – cherry red
- Alicante – medium red
If you’ve tried to grow tomatoes in the past, but have had poor results, have another go! You may be surprised at the amount of tomatoes and the quality of taste that you’ll enjoy later in the summer.
There are a number of bush varieties that produce medium and large size tomatoes. Oregon Spring is a medium/large variety that I grow each season and is early to fruit for its size.
There are some “so called” tips that should be avoided.
Sometimes, bits of advice get passed around by well-meaning people who haven’t actually grown tomatoes themselves or have taken a piece of advice out of context.
Such as, “tomato plants love the rain“, “remove the flowers“, “you can sow seeds directly into the garden soil” and lastly, “tomatoes need at least 10 hours of sun each day“.
The above quotes are correct in context. If you live in a warm climate, are performing advanced techniques and are growing varieties that can cope with blistering sun!
The following tips should be followed:
- Keep leaves dry, especially in cold weather.
- The flowers are the future tomatoes – don’t remove them.
- Garden soil is usually full of insects that love to eat small seedlings, and diseases that will kill your little plants in no time at all.
- Use multi-purpose compost for containers or grow bag compost.
How Much Sun?
Many tomato varieties will produce fruit with hardly any direct sunlight, other varieties will need wall-to-wall sunshine so choosing the right varieties for your part of the world is important.
If a variety has an Italian name it probably needs Italian sunshine!
There are varieties called Siberia and Glacier – their names say it all!