Don’t Plant Your Tomatoes Too Quickly

Larry Hodgson has published thousands of articles and 65 books over the course of his career, in French and English. His son, Mathieu, has made it his mission to make his father’s writings available to the public. This text was originally published in the newspaper Le soleil on February 23, 2022.

The gardening season is fast approaching and many gardeners are already looking forward to getting their hands in the ground. But don’t go too fast with seedlings: there’s no need to beat the recommended planting dates or you’ll end up with overripe plants that won’t acclimatize properly. When it comes to transplanting, what you want are young, vigorous plants, not old ones that have already “passed their prime”.

Photo: Lynn Greyling.

Tomato seeds are considered easy to grow, so they are an excellent choice for your first steps with seedlings.

How to Start Tomato Seedlings

Ordinary Pots

Pots and trays sold already filled with peat are especially useful for seedlings that do not tolerate transplanting. Tomatoes are easy to transplant. You can use them, of course, but ordinary pots filled with light potting soil work just as well and cost less. If you have them, use old, well cleaned 4 inch (7.5 cm) plastic pots filled with new potting soil.

6 to 8 Weeks

Tomatoes are usually planted 6–8 weeks before the last frost date (1/4”, 6 mm deep). So don’t plant them before the end of March or even mid-April. Personally, I have more success with sowing in mid-April.

Photo: Jen.


You can grow tomato seedlings under natural light, but then you need maximum sunlight. This is why so many gardeners use fluorescent or LED lights. Just get a 120 cm two-tube fluorescent lamp, or a full-spectrum LED lamp. Both produce compact, full-bodied seedlings.

Place the lamps 4 to 8 inches (10 to 20 cm) away from the young plants, adjusting the height regularly as they grow. With LED lights, beware of the higher wattage lights that give off more heat. A light duration of 14 to 16 hours, controlled by a timer, will be fine.


Never transplant tomato plants until the soil is well warmed and there is no longer a danger of frost and night temperatures are above 10°C. However, you can move up this date by two weeks if you cover the row or transplant site with a tunnel or cloche in early May, as these products warm the soil and protect the young plants from the cold, allowing you to eat tomatoes earlier than usual.

N’oubliez pas de bien acclimater les plants aux conditions extérieures avant de les repiquer. Photo: Louise Joly.

Quelques trucs

Enfin, voici quelques autres trucs pour avoir de belles tomates. N’oubliez pas de bien acclimater les plants aux conditions extérieures avant de les repiquer. Commencez une semaine plus tôt en les plaçant d’abord à l’extérieur quelques heures par jour seulement, à l’ombre, puis augmentez la « dose » tous les jours, jusqu’à ce que les plants soient au plein soleil toute la journée.

If your seedlings are bald at the base, simply transplant them deeper than normal, burying the base of the bare stem. New roots will form on the buried part.

Don’t forget that tomatoes are greedy plants, requiring full sun in the garden and a rich and loose soil. They can also be easily grown in containers.

Photo: Gail Langellotto.

For larger tomatoes, but fewer in number, space the plants 1 m apart in all directions, stake them and remove all the suckers.

For more small tomatoes (but a greater weight of the total plant), plant them at a distance of 45 cm and do not remove the offshoots. You can run them on the ground or put them in a tomato cage.

Garden writer and blogger, author of 65 gardening books, lecturer and communicator, the Laidback Gardener, Larry Hodgson, passed away in October 2022. Known for his great generosity, his thoroughness and his sense of humor, he reached several generations of amateur and professional gardeners over his 40-year career. Thanks to his son, Mathieu Hodgson, and a team of contributors, will continue its mission of demystifying gardening and making it more accessible to all.

1 comment on “Don’t Plant Your Tomatoes Too Quickly

  1. With our crazy temps in New England, I will begin my seeds outside in milk jugs (winter sowing).
    The tomatoes I will buy at a local farm after last year’s bounty of Hornworms I am rethinking adding Petunias to my space 🙁

Leave a Reply

Sign up for the Laidback Gardener blog and receive articles in your inbox every morning!

%d bloggers like this: