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How to harden off tomato plants

I inherited my love of gardening from my mother and grandmother. I am a garden blogger, freelance writer, and Master Gardener emeritus.

Slow move to the sun

Slowly expose tomato transplants to increasing amounts of sun. Let all plants started indoors make this gradual transition.

Slowly expose tomato transplants to increasing amounts of sun. Let all plants started indoors make this gradual transition.

Tomato flowers

If you buy a tomato plant that is already blooming, pinch off the flowers. Allow your plants to develop a strong root system before producing fruit.

If you buy a tomato plant that is already blooming, pinch off the flowers. Allow your plants to develop a strong root system before producing fruit.

Growing strong tomato plants

“Hardening off” is acclimating your indoor grown seedlings to normal outdoor growing conditions. In anticipation to transplanting tomatoes in the garden, you will first need to expose them to sunlight and outdoor life gradually.

This is also a good practice if you are moving houseplants outside for the summer. While managing unruly and heavy houseplants can be daunting, tomato transplants are simple.

No matter how bright your grow lights are, natural light will shock or even burn transplants. Heavy rain, wind, bright sunlight can kill or at least shock young transplants.

Whether you plant hybrids or heirlooms, getting plants off to a good start is the best thing you can do to enourage growth and fruit production.For more ideas to reduce transplant shock, consider using compostable or organic containers.

Before fruiting

Prepare your plant for heavy harvests by staking, pruning and regularly watering the plant.

Prepare your plant for heavy harvests by staking, pruning and regularly watering the plant.

Making the move

Before moving your plants outside – During the indoor growing period gently brush the tops of tomato plants. Lightly waving your hand across the top of the plants will encourage sturdy stems and help them survive harsh winds.

3 or 4 weeks before moving your plants outside, transplant them into individual containers.

Making the move – Plan your garden space, leaving 3 feet between tomato plants. The more common advice is to space 2 feet apart. For determinate or hybrids like Celebrity, that is OK. I grow big indeterminate heirloom tomato plants. These plants usually grow big and just keep on growing all season. Give them more space and I believe you will get more fruit and less disease.

Locate tomato stakes or cages. Install stakes now before or at the time when you plant the tomatoes.

Transplanting - Trim off the lower leaves and branches, leaving only the top growth. If you have leggy or tall tomato plants, just dig the hole deeper. Plant the tomato deep enough to cover all but the top three or four inches of the plant.

This will give give your plant an opportunity to a strong root system able to reach deeper for moisture during the hottest part of the summer and grow a sturdy stem system.

Grow healthier tomato plants

Tomato questions

These hubs may answer you tomato questions.

  • Plant tomatoes the right way

Ask tomato planting and growing questions anytime on my Hub page: http://patsybell.hubpages.com

Comments

Annie Miller from Wichita Falls, Texas on April 04, 2013:

We can always use ideas to help us with our tomatoes ... thank you Patsy!

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on April 03, 2013:

I could quote University Extension research that supports our opinion. I have another suggestion. You've tried your husbands way; now this year try it your way. Keep me posted. Thank you for your kind words.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on April 03, 2013:

You must have been very popular with the neighbors! I would love to see your garden. Thank you for your kind words.

Natasha from Hawaii on April 03, 2013:

Great tomato advice! One year we had a large garden and somehow ended up with about 120 tomato plants. It was...interesting!

Jill Spencer from United States on April 03, 2013:

This is good advice, Patsybell. My husband & I always go back & forth about when to plant tomatoes outside. Putting them out too early (& without hardening them off) is so counterproductive, resulting in small toms and less fruit. Will you talk to him please? LOL. Voted up & shared.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on January 07, 2013:

I'm a few weeks away from starting tomatoes. My Texas friends who are started already. Enjoy.

Kim Anne from Texas on January 07, 2013:

about to start my indoor seedlings! Good tip to try on start brushing them by hand, hadn't ever heard of that.

Patsy Bell Hobson (author) from zone 6a, Southeast Missouri, USA on December 12, 2012:

You are my new best friend. Thank you. I appreciate you.

Sleepylog from Australia on December 12, 2012:

Great article. I'd never thought about acclimating them before, but I'll try it next year.

I've linked to this hub too and voted up and Tweeted it .

homesteadpatch from Michigan on March 19, 2012:

Very useful information.

Jill Spencer from United States on March 18, 2012:

Awesome hub! Voted up & useful. (:

MobyWho from Burlington VT on March 18, 2012:

"Lightly waving your hand across the top of the plants" - Makes sense; thanks. This and your other tips make me eager to get busy.

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