Venture: How to Plant a Tomato Seedling

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

One of the easiest ways into the world of gardening is growing a tomato plant. Many modern cultivars are fairly low-maintenance, produce plenty of fruit and thrive in relatively small spaces. Beginning from seed is fun, but it's a little late to the game for that.

Here are some tips for getting a seedling off to a good start in a pot. The safe date for Central Ohio planting is in mid-May, so you should be good to go this weekend.

1. Garden, grocery and hardware stores generally have seedlings that vary in size, color and taste. If I'm only doing one plant, I'll pick a hearty, medium-sized sandwich tomato, like Celebrity, Marglobe or Rutgers. These bushier plants are better suited for pots and small spaces.

2. Your pot should hold at least five gallons. I like using ones with proper drainage and a base reservoir, as I sometimes forget to water. Use organic soil - not a soil-less potting mix - so there's some weight to the base. You shouldn't need fertilizer at first.

3. Fill the pot to about three inches below the rim. Remove the plastic pot from the store by gently squeezing it off the root ball. Dig a hole in the soil and place the root ball in it.

4. Tomato plants can grow roots along their stem, so get the plant down far in the soil. Pinch off the two small leaves closest to the root ball and put the plant deep enough that the soil line's just below the next set of full leaves. Press down the soil around the stalk, making sure the plant stands firm and upright.

5. For bushy tomatoes, the familiar ringed metal cage is an easy option. Whatever support system you choose, placing it early saves you headaches later. Put the pot in full sun and make sure the soil stays moist. Once the soil warms, add mulch or straw around the base to retain moisture and prevent disease.

Tomato Types

There are two basic types of tomato plants - determinate and indeterminate - and each offers specific benefits and drawbacks.

Determinate plants are bushier, grow to a certain height and produce fruit that ripens all at once. They're preferred by people who like canning, making tomato sauce and container gardening. Many roma, sandwich and paste tomatoes are determinate.

Indeterminate plants don't stop growing at a genetically determined height. Instead, they produce vines and fruit gradually until killed by frost. They're a favorite because they produce small garden yields over long periods. Most cherry and beefsteak tomatoes are indeterminate.

Sources: Bill Dawson at Franklin Park Conservatory,,,