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Vermont Garden Journal: When To Start Growing Your Tomatoes

Tomato seedlings work best when they are small and stocky. Start tomatoes in early April with a transplant date somewhere towards the end of May.

Happy Saint Patrick's Day! For some gardeners St. Patty's Day is the time to start sowing tomato seeds indoors. While the sentiment is great, the timing is off.

It's a problem when gardeners start their tomato seeds too early and then have to spend April and May holding back the plants. The best seedlings are those that are small and stocky.

So, to all you tomato seed starters, put the seed packets down and step away from the potting soil. We should be starting our tomatoes in early April with a transplant date somewhere towards the end of May. Tomatoes are warm temperature loving plants and I know many of you have seen a snowy day in May. It's better to err on the late side when it comes to tomatoes. The exception would be those gardeners with hoop houses, greenhouses or other frost protection devices that allow them to plant early.

When ready, sow two seeds per cell or small pot, filled with a seed starting mix. Keep the soil moist and warm. I use a heating pad under the pots to hasten germination and growth. Once sprouted, move the pots under grow lights, placed a few inches above the seedlings, running 14 hours a day. Raise the lights as the tomatoes grow giving them more room.

Once the true or second set of leaves form, start brushing the tomato seedlings with your hand, ten times, twice daily. This motion has been shown to create a shorter, stockier and healthier seedling. You can also run a small fan over the seedlings daily to have the same effect.

When the height of the tomato seedling is three times the diameter of the pot, transplant into a pot, one size larger. Fertilize lightly with a liquid solution and harden plants off before moving outdoors.

Now for this week's tip: consider buying a gift of an oxalis or shamrock plant as a houseplant for St. Patrick's Day. Leave those awful green carnations behind.

Charlie Nardozzi is a nationally recognized garden writer, radio and TV show host, consultant, and speaker. Charlie is the host of All Things Gardening on Sunday mornings at 9:35 during Weekend Edition on Vermont Public. Charlie is a guest on Vermont Public's Vermont Edition during the growing season. He also offers garden tips on local television and is a frequent guest on national programs.
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