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Can I plant tomato seeds directly into the garden?

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  • Can I plant tomato seeds directly into the garden?

    I don't care how late I can harvest them. First frost date Oct 5; we are on the line between zones 4 and 5. Can this work? I don't have cold frames or room to start seed indoors. Is there any hope for me??

  • #2
    Sure, you could direct sow, but your results will likely be better if you grow seedlings to a reasonable transplant size in pots, then plant them out in your garden when the time is right for that in your area / zone.

    Direct sowed seed can get beaten into the ground or washed away by lots of rain (or rot), the newly emerging tiny seedlings can get chomped by birds or insects, or killed by late frosts if some protection isn't in place, etc.

    Also, if outside temperatures aren't right for germination in your area right now, it might be a while before the seeds come up or germination could be spotty.

    Even if you don't have lights or a cold frame, what you could do is sow indoors (or some place that is at least room temp most of the time), then immediately move outside as soon as the seeds germinate so they get sufficient light. If you have a rack of some sort that you could move outside during the day, then move into a garage or shed at night so the plants don't get too cold, that could work fairly well to grow your seedlings.


    • #3
      I am in zone 4, and have actually experimented with trying to direct seed tomatoes right into the garden. Here is what I did, and what my results were.

      I constructed a hoop house of plastic over one row. I placed many jugs of water inside the tunnel to collect and keep the heat during the night. I constructed this about a week BEFORE I did the direct seeding, so that the soil might have some time to warm up. I planted the seeds pretty thickly, so I could thin them later.

      During the same time I was direct seeding into the tunnel, I planted some seeds of the same variety inside the house under grow lights. When the transplants from under the grow lights were of sufficient size to move out to the garden, I planted them in a row immediately next to the direct seeded tomatoes. By the time the transplants were ready, the direct seeded tomatoes had sprouted right in the garden soil in the tunnel.

      So, I treated both rows exactly the same. My reasoning was that the transplants might suffer a few days of transplant shock, but that the direct seeded tomatoes would never experience any transplant shock, so might bear the first ripe fruit about the same time as the transplants.

      My experiment showed me that the direct seeded tomatoes were only a few days later in bearing fruit.

      So, Lea, you might just try to duplicate my experiment for yourself. If I were you, I'd choose a quick-to-maturity variety of tomato, and pre-warm your garden soil with some type of tunnel or hoop house in order to get your soil temps to what a tomato seed needs for germination.


      • #4
        Originally posted by Lea View Post
        I don't care how late I can harvest them. First frost date Oct 5; we are on the line between zones 4 and 5. Can this work? I don't have cold frames or room to start seed indoors. Is there any hope for me??
        Lea, Suze and Kelly have both given you some excellent advice.

        I'm speaking as one who also is in a 4b/5a gardening zone and without trying to do the hoop house and other protection Kelly spoke to, and also knowing you said you have no room to start seeds inside my most important question many plants/varieties do you expect to plant outside?

        I can tell you that direct sowing outside in my area is not done except for those folks who do have hoop houses and most of those folks are commercial folks who are either growing plants for sale or trying to get plants as soon as they can, mainly of short season varieties, for sales of fruits.

        My last average frost date here in May 15th and since late killing frosts are not uncommon folks around here never plant out their plants until a couple of weeks after May 15th, around June 1 or so if the weather at that time is favorable and sometimes it's not.

        First killing frost here in the Fall is supposed to be in late September but that's an average and a few years ago in two successive years first killing frost was September 7th and 9th, and there's just so many plants one can try to protect that it's an iffy situation.

        So my first question is, how many plants/varieties do you plan to set outside, and then maybe if it really is too many to start in the house you could consider buying some plants either locally or online and there are some excellent places online that have a huge number of varieties they sell at reasonable prices, and I emphasize reasonable prices b/c not all online places are reasonable or send good plants based on feedback that I've seen.


        • #5
          Thank you to everyone who responded. I hope I am replying in the correct way here... Suze, the moving in and out of seedlings is what I want to avoid if possible. It's a big if! My first garden love is perennial flowers, and they get my attention, which is maybe why I'm not so good at the veggies. I am hoping to improve.

          Kelly, the hoop garden has got me thinking. Hoops with plastic--simple, which is what I am. (!) I wonder which you ended up preferring: sowing indoors or seeding out.

          Carolyn, as a "learner", I am just trying a few varieties. And do you have a recommendation for an online place to buy plants? That is something I have never done, but would like to be able to get non-hybrid plants, which seems unlikely from the stores!

          Thank you one and all.


          • #6
            Everyone direct sows.

            Every year lots and lots of "volunteers" come up from the ground as a result of previous season's dropped fruits.

            Some of them can be very interesting crosses.



            • #7
              Kelly, the hoop garden has got me thinking. Hoops with plastic--simple, which is what I am. (!) I wonder which you ended up preferring: sowing indoors or seeding out.

              Hi Lea,
              I didn't find much advantage to going to the trouble to build the tunnels and pre-warm the soil and direct plant. The advantages and disadvantages seemed to be sixes to me, so I continued to sow indoors and transplant later. I did gain some knowledge and experience by thinking outside the normal box that says tomatoes are always transplanted and never direct-sown in northern Utah. Like dcarch says, I had volunteers, so why not try to experiment with direct-seeding? Besides, if I grow transplants indoors first, it allows me to gift and barter the transplants with neighbors, which I like doing.


              • #8
                I can't find t5he link right now. But have been study's on root growth.

                Tomatoes direct seeded will develop a very long taproot 2-4 feet straight down. That makes a sturdier plant that can get nutrients from not only the subsoil but levels below this as well. A transplanted tomato will not go crazy with he taproot but will grow with a more fibrous lateral spreading root system. Though not the end of the world. Millions of people transplant every year with great success.

                Another thing to think about is in a perfect world a younger smaller plant will outperform a bigger plant transplanted at the same time. The reasoning behind this being the smaller plant will be planted hen young and during a time of rapid root growth. When young they spend more time growing roots when older the spend more time filling out and producing fruit.

                Will they grow heck yeah, I have pulled out several hundred volunteers this past week.

                good luck maybe try both.


                • #9
                  Direct sown tomatoes-

                  Hi Lea- How about wintersowing tomatoes? It might be too late for this year but check out Trudi's website and get ready for next winter. Just start saving all of your containers from yogurt, butter, sourcream, milk, and you will have what you need to do your little outdoor set-up next winter.