When to plant tomato seeds

Monty Don discusses tomato blight and how to clear it out

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Tomatoes have excellent health benefits, and are an essential part of a varied and balanced diet. Tomatoes are the major dietary source of the antioxidant lycopene, which has been linked to various health benefits including reduced risk of heart disease and cancer. In addition, tomatoes are an excellent source of vitamin C, potassium, folate and Vitamin K. Despite being botanically categorised as a fruit, tomatoes are generally eaten and prepared like a vegetable.

While undoubtedly delicious, growing tomatoes requires the right conditions.

To grow tomatoes successfully, you need rich, fertile soil or peat-free potting compost and a good sunny, sheltered spot.

Water regularly and feed on a weekly basis with a high-potash fertiliser once the plants start to flower.

Tomatoes are split into two main growing types: determinate (bush) and indeterminate (cordon).

Bush types are usually planted in pots or hanging baskets and their stems trail around the edge of the container.

Cordon types are trained to grow tall and are supported by a cane or a stake.

If you grow cordon tomatoes, then you will need a stake, such as a bamboo cane, to support the plant and you’ll need to pinch out side shoots to keep the plant fruiting on one central stem.

For beginner gardeners, it’s a good idea to grow bush tomatoes as you won’t need a stake to hold them up or pinch out growing tips.

When to plant tomato seeds

If you’re looking to grow tomatoes outdoors, the best time to sow seeds (indoors) is eight to 10 weeks before your estimated last frost date.

Tomato seeds need to be sown indoors in warm conditions in order to germinate.

For example, if your last frost is expected around the end of May, you would need to sow the seeds from the middle to end of March.

Your seedlings would then be ready to be planted outside around the end of May or beginning of June.

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In the UK, you can sow up until the end of April and still expect a crop by the end of the season if you choose a quick or early maturing variety.

If you intend to grow tomatoes in an unheated greenhouse, you could sow indoors at the end of February.

You will need a light position or grow light and enough room indoors to germinate the seedlings in the warm.

They could then be put out into the greenhouse for growing in early May.

Knowing when to sow tomato seeds is vital if you want the growing process to be a success.

Start too soon and the plants will be subject to too cold conditions, and days that are too short with not enough light – unless you use a grow light.

Often is the case that a plant grown in good conditions a little bit later in the season, will overtake a plant grown earlier in the season when conditions are not as favourable.

Sow seeds too late and the season will end before the tomatoes have had time to ripen – especially in a short season area such as the whole of the UK.

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