Step by Step: Growing Tomatoes from Seed (video)

Timeline of growing tomatoes - the rule of 2's:

2 weeks for germination
2″ tall seedlings - time to thin them
2 sets of true leaves - start fertilizing
2 more weeks, then repot in 4 inch pots (4 weeks after sowing)
2 more weeks then plant outside
2 months to harvest tomatoes

Step by Step: Growing Tomatoes from Seed - YouTube

David Grist, Gardener's Supply:

Seedlings need to be fertilized, but not until they are showing "true leaves". The first set of leaf-like structures aren't leaves at all, but are the seed's food storage structures, called cotyledons. The second set of leaves are true leaves, and they resemble the mature plant's leaves. We recommend a liquid fertilizer that's formulated for seedlings, such as PHC for Seedlings.

With most plants, it's important to plant them at the same level they were when growing the pot. Tomatoes are different - you can plant them deeper. With this technique, roots form along the buried portion of the stem, making the plant sturdier.

Seedlings need A LOT of light, so it's hard to grow them indoors unless you have a really sunny, south-facing window. It can be done, but you need the right location. Without that, you're best of investing in grow lights. You'll find lots of good advice on seed starting in our Seedstarting FAQs. Go to and search "seedstarting faq".

From Slideshow: Growing Tomatoes from Seed to Harvest

Plan to sow the seeds indoors 6 weeks before your average last frost date (April 15 in Illinois, the start should be around March 1). Begin by moistening a sterile germinating mix, such as "Eco-co Coir Seedstarting Mix" ( Don't use garden soil, which often drains poorly and may harbor disease organisms.

Add mix to the containers such as "Fast Start Seedstarter" (

Use a pencil (or a small stick) to poke 2 holes per cell, each about 1/4" deep. Planting 2 seeds per cell increases the likelihood that at least one seed per cell will germinate. Place one seed in each hole. Sprinkle additional mix over the cells to fill the holes and cover the seeds.

Gently firm the mix to eliminate air pockets, and then water lightly to ensure good seed-to-mix contact. Use a plant mister or apply a few drops of water to each cell.

Place the tray in a warm place, about 70-75 degrees F. At this point you don't need to worry about providing light. Covering the tray helps retain moisture, which is important for germination. It takes about 1 week for many tomato seeds to germinate.

Check daily, taking care to keep the planting mix moist but not saturated. Once you see the first sprout, place the seedlings under grow lights, keeping the lights a few inches above the tops of the plants. Remove the greenhouse cover so air can circulate around the seedlings. This helps prevent disease problems.

Keep the planting mix moist but not soggy. A self-watering seed starter makes it easy. You fill the reservoir and it delivers water to the roots when they need it.

When the seedlings are about 2″ tall, it's time to thin. Choose the strongest, healthiest-looking seedling in each cell and remove the others by snipping them off at the soil line.

Once the seedlings have 2 sets of true leaves, it's time to start fertilizing. Once a week, apply a soluble fertilizer, such as "Plant Health Care for Seedlings" ( This balanced formula contains a 6-12-6 fertilizer, plus humus, amino acids, and vitamins to make seedlings stocky and disease-resistant. It contains potassium nitrate, ammonium phosphate, urea, seaweed extract, potassium phosphates, copper sulfate, manganese, iron, zinc, amino acids, K and B-complex vitamins, beneficial bacteria, humates and humic acids, kelp, citric and citrate buffers and yucca plant extract (2.5 oz. of powder makes 6 gallons of fertilizer; 8 oz. makes 19 gallons). NPK analysis: 6-12-6

About a month after sowing (4 weeks), gently remove one of the seedlings and look at the roots. When the roots begin to fill the cell, it's time to repot.

Each seedling gets its own container such as a 4" "Cowpot" ( These biodegradable transplant pots are the patent-pending invention of Matt and Ben Freund, two Connecticut dairy farmers who were looking for an environmentally responsible way to dispose of cow manure. The manure is dried, completely composted, mixed with natural fibers, and pressed into pots.

Plant the small tomato plant deep in the pot. Place a thin layer of soil in the bottom of the pot. Then remove the seedling from its cell and place it in the pot. Unlike other types of seedlings, it's OK to bury the stem of a tomato plant — in fact, it's a good idea, because the plant will grow roots along the buried stem.

Place the seedlings in their new pots back under the grow lights for a few more weeks of growth (2-4 weeks).

Once all danger of frost has passed (after April 15 in Illinois), it's time to transplant your seedlings into the garden.

If your seedlings are more than about a foot tall, it's best to plant them in a trench so you can bury the lower part of the stem. Begin by pinching off the lower branches and leaves. You want to avoid burying any of the foliage to prevent rot.

Begin by digging a trench about 8″ deep and 6″ wide. If your tomato plant is in a biodegradable Cowpot you can plant it pot and all. Otherwise, gently remove the plant from its pot. Lay the plant on its side in the trench.

Gently bend the stem so the top portion is above the soil line. Fill in the trench, firming the soil around the stem so it's upright.

Water thoroughly and add a support such as a tomato cage. Be prepared to protect the seedlings with a row cover, such as "GardenQuilt" (, if a late cold spell threatens.

Keep the plants watered and fertilized, and you'll be harvesting ripe tomatoes in 2 months.

Remember the timeline of growing tomatoes - the rule of 2's:

2 weeks for germination
2″ tall seedlings - time to thin them
2 sets of true leaves - start fertilizing
2 more weeks, then repot in 4 inch pots (4 weeks after sowing)
2 more weeks then plant outside
2 months to harvest tomatoes


Slideshow: Growing Tomatoes from Seed to Harvest
Seed Starting Videos - How to Start Vegetable Seeds at
A Beginners Guide to Starting Seeds Indoors - MOTHER EARTH NEWS
Seed Calculator | The Art of Doing Stuff
When people asked me what I was going to grow in my new garden, my response was, "Anything but tomatoes."
Potting Up Tomatoes » Harvest to Table

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