Seedling Experiment – Tomatoes

Greetings from the snowy Mid-Atlantic! Last weekend I spent my morning helping a friend, who has recently become a gardening enthusiast, start some of her own seeds. While discussing the general process over a mimosa or two, I suggested that she plant several seeds of each variety to ensure she got enough plants.  Many of her seeds had come from swaps and while this is a great way to obtain a varietal assortment, germination rates are not guaranteed.  I assured her that they would be thinned at the time of potting up anyway. She then asked a very logical question – do you have to pot them up or can you just leave them like this [in peat pellets] until they go into the ground? I responded that they could stay in the pellets but that they would get bigger and stronger faster if they were potted up at least once in the meantime. Today, I found myself potting up my own tomato seedlings and thought I’d start a little experiment to, figuratively, put my money where my mouth is.  It’s one thing to hear advice from another gardener but it is far more convincing if you see the evidence with your own two eyes.  So, today I had extra Weisnicht’s Ukrainian seedlings and decided to pot up two and leave two others in their original Jiffy peat pellet.  Two weeks from now I will report an update on their progress and you can be the judge – is it worth it to pot up your seedlings?  If you’re curious about potting up methods, I’ve included a quick refresher below.  First, I typically wait until the seedlings have at least one set of true leaves or the roots are making an appearance through the mesh on the pellet, whichever comes first. If your roots become too exposed it leaves the plant vulnerable to disease and the root system to damage.  Plus, when you pull the mesh off you will inevitably break the roots that have pushed through.  Fortunately, Jiffy is in the process of rolling out next-gen pellets with biodegradable mesh so you won’t need to remove it before planting. I then transplant a single plant into a 2-3″ pot that has drainage holes on the bottom.  To prevent the soil from running out of the holes I put a small piece of paper towel or coffee filter in the bottom of the pot.  Next, add a layer of soil to cover the bottom and place your seedling in the center of the pot.  Tomatoes have the ability to shoot roots the entire length of their stem (more info in my “Tomato Crash Course For Beginners” post) so I plant my seedlings deep.  If they are planted deep they will grow more roots and this stronger root system can support a larger more robust plant.  Win win!  After your seedling is in place gently surround it with moiste (not sopping wet) soil and place it in a warm well-lit spot to continue growing.  Easy-peasy.
Weisnicht’s Ukrainian tomato, photo from
If you have any questions or have any tips you’d like to share with our fellow gardeners please comment below.  Spring is coming folks, let us greet her with garden ready plants.  Cheers, friends!

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