‘Key to success’ for ‘better’ and ‘higher’ yield tomato plants

Gardeners' World: Monty demonstrates how to pot tomato plants

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Tomatoes are a simple and attractive addition to the garden, offering plenty of fruit to pick from throughout the warm summer months. While this sun-loving plant needs plenty of warmth to thrive, it’s not the only necessity for success. In fact, according to a gardening expert at First Tunnels, planting ahead of the season in the cold of winter is one of the best ways to ensure you secure a fruitful crop.

While tomatoes are a notoriously easy plant to grow at home, one of the “biggest challenges” is the relatively short growing season, according to an expert at First Tunnels.

They said: “Unpredictable weather, blight and pests can also be challenges for those trying to grow tomatoes at home. One of the keys to success with tomatoes is sowing tomato seeds early indoors – these will then be at a good stage of progress by the time the weather warms and they can be transferred to the polytunnel towards the end of spring, or in early summer.”

Sowing is usually recommended eight to 10 weeks before the final first date where you live, though you can start them indoors right now. If you can’t do it in January, early planting can still be done towards the end of February.

The polytunnel experts said: “Those who do start their tomato seeds early and care for them properly will often see better, higher yields of tomatoes come harvest time.”

Even though winter is still an achievable time to sow tomato seeds at home, it will only work if you give the young seedlings plenty of light.

If you can’t find a warm, sunny windowsill in your home or greenhouse, you can use LED grow lights instead.

The gardening experts said: “Light levels, even on a south-facing windowsill, can be very low in the early months of the year. Unless the weather is unseasonably clear and sunny where you live, you will likely have to supplement the light levels for your growing tomato seedlings.

“Fortunately, LED strip grow lights make it very easy to provide the required light levels for growing plants without breaking the bank, or consuming too much energy.”

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Other factors to consider when sowing your tomato seeds early are warmth and consistency to aid germination.

The “optimal” temperature to stimulate tomato seed germination is around 21C, though it can still happen at a slightly lower or higher temperature.

Of course, the lower the temperature, the longer germination will take, though it shouldn’t be more than a few weeks at best.

According to the gardening experts, the main goal is to keep temperatures consistent and avoid fluctuation in the early stages of growth.

When it comes to sowing your seeds, you can use either a seed tray or individual pots for each plant.

Start by filling a pot with seed compost and water well. Sow three or four seeds per pot on the surface of the soil before covering it with vermiculite.

A heated propagator is useful for quick germination though you can cover the pots with a clear plastic bag if you don’t have one.

Position on a warm windowsill with LED light reinforcements if required, and watch the young seedlings grow.

According to an expert at the Royal Horticultural Society (RHS), it is important to take action “as soon as seedlings appear” which is usually within a fortnight of planting.

When you notice the green growth emerging through the surface of the soil, uncover the seeds tray or pot and place it in as much light as possible. This will prevent them from growing “thin and leggy”.

If you haven’t already, move the seedlings into individual pots after a couple of weeks of growth ready to be moved outdoors.

To ensure you don’t break the seedlings when transplanting them, lift each seedling individually, using the dibber to support its rootball and holding it by a leaf rather than the delicate stem, then lower it into the new hole. The RHS expert said: “If the seedling is leggy, bury it up to the first pair of leaves, then firm in gently.”

After a couple of weeks, move the seedlings into individual pots.

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