A Guide to Transplanting Tomato Seedlings

As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
You can read my full disclosure statement here.

A step by step guide to teach you how to successfully transplant your tomato seedlings! The Reid Homestead #tomatoes #tomatoseedlings #plantingtomatoes
A step by step guide to teach you how to successfully transplant your tomato seedlings! The Reid Homestead #tomatoes #tomatoseedlings #plantingtomatoes
A step by step guide to teach you how to successfully transplant your tomato seedlings! The Reid Homestead #tomatoes #tomatoseedlings #plantingtomatoes

Today we will be talking about how to transplant those delicate tomato seedlings, in order to have them grow into huge, healthy productive tomato plants!

It is that time of the year, where it is time to transplant your tomato seedlings into their final spot for the summer growing season. In this article, I will share with you how to transplant tomato seedlings whether you plan to plant them in pots or the traditional way in the ground.

Other related articles you may be interested in:
How to Harden Off Your Seedlings
Seed Sowing 101: Planting Tomato Seed
Benefits of Freezing Some of your Tomato Harvest

Our favorite Homesteading and Gardening tools in our Amazon Shop!

Hardening Off your Tomato Seedlings

trays of tomato seedlings
Tomato seedlings that are well over due to be transplanted!

Before moving your tomato seedlings to their permanent location outdoors, they need to be hardened off. This means that they are slowly and gradually allowed to accustom themselves to real outdoors conditions rather than the sheltered and stable indoor conditions that they have been growing in from seed.

Start by moving your seedlings outdoors into a sheltered area, away from wind and hot direct sun, for an hour or two the first day. Three to four hours the second day, increasing the time by a little bit more each day until they have been outside all day.

Same goes for exposing them to full hot sun. Don’t move them from the sheltered location, into a full day of hot hot sun. They will get sun scald and may go into shock. Slowly allow them to become accustomed to the direct sun as well. For a full understanding of how and why you need to harden off your seedlings, check out my article How to Harden Off Your Seedlings.

Preparing the Tomato Seedlings for Transplanting

tomato seedling
Tomato seedling prior to removing the lower leaves.
tomato seedling with bottom leaves pruned off
Removing the lower leaves on the tomato seedling allow for more roots to grow when you bury the stem.

Once the seedlings have been hardened off, it is time to prepare them for their transplanting. Prior to transplanting your tomato seedlings, give them a good drink of water. I always water my tomato seedlings in trays from the bottom because they don’t like to have their leaves wet. By giving them a good drink ahead of time, this will help prevent them from struggling, or going into shock, right after they have been moved.

Also, remove all the extra lower leaves, just leaving the top two clusters of leaves. At planting time, you will want to bury as much stem as possible, as the tomatoes will grow new roots along the lower stem and from the leaf nodules where you removed leaves, to make for a stronger plant. I just use my thumb finger nail and pinch those leaves off as close to the stem as possible. Be careful not to bend or fold the main stem while doing this.

Choosing to Plant in a Pot or in the Ground

I live in a cool, short growing season here in the Pacific Northwest. Because of this, I plant my tomatoes in pots because it allows the plants to get warmer, roots and all, which they like. If you are planting into the ground, make sure to choose an area you have not grown night shades in for the last 3 or 4 years. Nightshades include tomatoes, potatoes, peppers and eggplants. Make sure the area gets a full day of sun and that  the soil is well draining, and mix in some good compost. Plan to space your tomatoes at least 24″ apart, more space is better. They need good air circulation around each plant.

Trench Planting your Tomatoes

I’m going to talk about this option for a minute because a lot of people are unfamiliar with it. Trench planting your tomatoes is exactly how it sounds. Traditional planting of a tomato plant into the ground, consists of digging a deep hole and dropping your tomato plant down 12-18″ into the hole. For trench planting, you dig a shallow trench the length of the main stem + the root ball of the plant, about 6-8″ down. Place the supplements down at the bottom of this trench, along the length of it. Sprinkle 1-2″ of soil over the supplements. Then you will lay your tomato plant down into the trench on it’s side, holding the top cluster of leaves above the soil by bending them slightly upwards.

trench planting a tomato seedling
Trench planting tomatoes. Literally lie the plant on its side in a trench.

Than bury the entire stem and root ball with soil. This allows for the entire root system of the plant, to be closer to the surface, therefore WARMER. If you live in a cooler climate like I do, this is critical for growing a good crop of tomatoes. If you live in a HOT DRY DESERT climate, this is not a good idea, as the roots will dry out in no time.

trench planting a tomato seedling
When trench planting tomatoes, hold the tip of the seedling up at a gentle angle, and then bury the stem and root ball.

Preparing the Planting Pots

sanitizing large planting pots
Tomato and pepper pot washing day! Then they get sanitized and dry in the sun.

I like to use pots that are 4-5 gallons in size for my tomatoes. To get them ready for planting, I wash them all well. Then I sanitize all my pots by dipping them in a bleach/water solution in a large plastic bin. To sanitize, I put in a couple of inches of water and maybe 2 cups of bleach. Than dip each pot in and roll it in the bleach/water solution, than let it air dry in the sun.

For potting soil, in the past, I have always used the Organic Miracle Grow Moisture Control Potting Soil which I bought at Costco. This year, Costco dropped this brand. Instead they have an organic potting soil by Kellogg Garden Organics that I will be trying for the first time. Having moisture control in the potting mix, helps to prevent the pots from drying out too quickly, so look for that in the potting soil you choose. 

You might wonder where to get pots, as buying them is money that I’d rather use elsewhere. I’ve gotten most of my pots for free, utilizing local Facebook homesteading and gardening groups. Or look for Buy Nothing type groups or on Craigslist. You can often find people giving them away for free! It doesn’t hurt to ask at your local nursery too.

pouring large bag of potting soil into a plastic bin
This shows the bag of the potting soil I use. I use a LOT of it, and this shows how I store it. I plop it up on a table, slit it open at the bottom and up the middle, then dump in the bin below and work from the bin.
using potting soil straight out of a plastic bin instead of the bag it came in
Potting soil bin that I work from as I pot up the tomatoes.

Preparing to Plant

supplements I add when planting tomatoes, epsom salts, crushed eggshells, organic vegetable fertilizer
Supplements I use when planting the tomato seedlings, Epsom salts, crushed egg shells and organic vegetable fertilizer.

For either the ground or the planting pot, I mix in 2 TBSN’s of organic vegetable fertilizer, 1 TBSN of Epsom salts, and 1 TBSN of crushed eggshells. See my article How to Use Egg Shells in the Garden If planting in a pot, fill the pot about 1/4-1/3 full with the potting soil you are using, add all these supplements, and mix well. Make sure the supplements are a few inches below where the actual plant will be, whether you are planting in a hole or in a trench.

filling the bottom of a pot with soil and plant supplements
When adding tomato supplements to the pot or planting hole, mix them in well with the soil at the bottom before planting.

Planting your Tomato Seedlings

planting a tomato seedling into a large pot
After mixing the supplements into the soil at the bottom of the pot, set the seedling in.

Whether you are planting in a pot or in the ground, at this point it is the same. First, dig a hole, deep enough for the majority of the stem and root ball to be planted. Put the supplements in the bottom of the hole and mix well into the soil. Place the plant gently into the hole, and gently add soil to bury it while you hold the plant upright.

If planting in a pot, leave a good 2″ at the top of the pot free of soil. This is so when watering, the water will stay inside the pot and not run off the top surface. If planting into the ground, mulch around the base of the plant to help keep the soil from drying out quickly. Mulch also prevents mud from splattering up onto the plant foliage, which can cause blight and other viruses that live in the soil.

planting a tomato seedling into a large pot
After placing seedling in the pot, gently add soil around the seedling up to about 2″ from the bottom of the rim of the pot.

Supporting the Tomato Plant

a pot with tomato seedling planted in it
A tomato seedling that has been successfully transplanted into a large pot where it will stay and grow for the season.

It is a good idea to provide some type of support for your tomato plant to climb at this point. Don’t wait until the roots have spread and risk damaging the plant by pounding a stake in later. Do it now.

There are many many methods for supporting the tomato plant. I will have to do another post on this now come to think of it! There are tomato cages, the string method, home made tomato supports of all kinds. Think about what you plan to use before you transplant them so you will have the supplies you need on hand.

Caring for the Freshly Transplanted Tomatoes

After planting, give a good deep watering to help get all those new roots growing. Then water regularly, waiting until the top 1″ or so of soil is dry. If you wait too long, and water sporadically, this will cause your ripening fruit to split.

I then mix a solution of water, Epsom salts and fish emulsion fertilizer (one TBSN of each per gallon of water) and spray on the plants once a month using a garden sprayer.  Spray early in the day on a cloudy day. This allows the plants have time to dry before the cooler evening air sets in.

If sprayed on a sunny day, the solution can burn the plant. I do this fertilizing all the while the plants are flowering to set new fruit. Later in the season, when there is more fruit setting than flowers flowering, I let up on the fertilizing.

greenhouse full of tomato plants
My tomato and pepper plants after moving them into the greenhouse.


Good Luck with Transplanting!

This is how I have been transplanting my tomatoes for a number of years with great success. I hope that it works for you just as well. If you have any further questions, please let me know in the comments. Thanks so much for stopping by, I wish you all a very plentiful tomato harvest this year!

My Other Articles on Growing Tomatoes:

How to Plant Tomato Seed.

Harden Off Your Seedlings!

Free Tomato Plants from Cuttings

DIY Tomato Support System

How and Why You should Prune Tomato Plants

The Benefits of Freezing Your Tomato Harvest

Tips on How to Save Your Own Tomato Seed

And lastly, see How I Make Money Selling Tomato and Pepper Plants

I hope this was helpful! Please let me know if you have any questions on planting your tomato seedlings!

Want to Remember This?

Please pin my “How to Transplant your Tomato Seedlings” article to your favorite gardening board on Pinterest!

tomato seedling in a pot with text overlay tips on how to transplant tomato seedlings



  1. Nancy W | 11th Mar 19

    Very informative post. This is the first year in many years that I haven’t started tomatoes from seed. I’ll get back to it as soon as we find our next home!

    • Tamara | 11th Mar 19

      I hope you find your new home soon Nancy!

  2. Jennifer Cook | 11th Mar 19

    Great ideas…I loved the post and it is very helpful. I use the Epsom salts to but never thought about the egg shells, which are plentiful in our home. Time to start saving them!

    • Tamara | 11th Mar 19

      Thanks for stopping by Jennifer! Yes, put those eggshells to good use!

  3. Pamela | 12th Mar 19

    Great post and very informative! I’m just getting ready to plant my seedlings next week!

    • Tamara | 12th Mar 19

      Hi Pamela! I’m jealous! It snowed here again this morning! LOL!

  4. Anaya | 4th May 19

    Thank you for this great post! I’m thinking about growing my tomatoes in pots this year and this was super helpful!

    • Tamara | 7th May 19

      Hi Anaya! Glad you found it helpful! Good luck with your tomatoes!

Leave A Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.