Planting tomatoes into the garden is as simple as one 1, 2, 3. Nonetheless, you can vastly improve your rates of success if this process is performed correctly.
Before you can plant directly into the garden, the plants need to be hardened off first, unless they’re store-bought plants in which case they’re already hardened. Hardening off to some extent is always necessary because when young tomato plants are damaged, they tend to go into a dormant, survival stage in which plant growth is delayed for a while.
The process of hardening involves a gradual, increasing exposure of the plants to the outside environment. Start by leaving the plants outside on a good day for 2 hours. Then gradually increase the exposure each following day until they’re deemed garden-ready by you. If at anytime during process the plants develop whitish burn marks on their leaves, bring them in for a few days and start over.
When the tomatoes are ready to go into the garden, remove all but the top set of (big) leaves. Scoop a hole where you want to plant and pad it with some compost. You may also add Osmocote or a similar slow release fertilizer. Gently set the plant in and bury its entire stem all the way up to the top leaves. When finished, the top leaves should be sticking just a little above the ground.
Planting tomatoes like this will cause all of the buried stem to turn into part of the main root, from which additional side roots are spawn. This will give the tomato plant an enhanced root system that can absorb additional nutrients for the benefit of the plant.
About 5 days after transplanting is a good time to fertilize. This will give the plants a great head start. Fertilizing too early right after transplant could burn the root, as the plants have not settled in first.
Frost damage is something to look out for when planting tomatoes early on in the season. Frost damage is marked by tender, dark green spots on the leaves. Although they won’t kill the plant, frostbites will make them dormant for a while, delaying plant growth. If you know that the nighttime temperature will drop below 35C, then try covering the plants with plastic buckets to help protect them overnight.
If you live in a colder area and want to prolong the growing season, then you might look into investing in “Wall o’ Water” plant protectors. The water inside these plastic protectors will absorb heat during the day that will keep the plants warm at night. Planting tomatoes out in the garden can be done earlier than usual with these protectors.