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Tomato Timing Checklist

Here is everything you need to know about when to seed, plant, and harvest tomatoes

Fine Gardening - Issue 194
Illustration: Bezvershenko/

It can be taxing to figure out when to plant, prune, and harvest tomatoes. Plant your seeds too late and you’ll never harvest any fruit. Or forget to harden-off your seedlings and you might not have any plants to worry about at all (because they’ll be dead before you can even think about transplanting). Here at Fine Gardening, we have messed up growing tomatoes more than most, so we know how hard it can be to get the job done right. The following steps will take you through the entire 7- to 8-month process of starting, raising, and harvesting tomatoes. Our handy checklist takes the guesswork out of any tomato timing and reviews everything you need to do and when to do it. Even experienced farmers and backyard growers are often confused about what it truly takes to grow a tomato plant to perfection. If they’re unsure, the rest of us surely have a reason to be a bit discombobulated.

Here are some general tomato timing protocols to follow throughout the growing season:

❑  6 to 8 weeks before the last spring frost date, start seeds indoors

❑  7 to 10 days prior to the last spring frost date, harden-­off seedlings

❑  1 to 7 days after the last frost, transplant young plants into the garden

❑  1 to 2 weeks after trans­planting (and any time after), prune off any foli­age that is touching the ground

❑  2 to 4 weeks after trans­planting (when flowering begins), remove all small suckers below the first flower cluster

❑  6 to 8 weeks (or longer) after transplanting, remove errant long stems that escape your tomato support system of choice (e.g., cage, fence)

❑  4 weeks before the first fall frost date, top the plant by cutting indeter­minate varieties back to 5 feet or so

❑  1 to 2 days after the first fall frost, remove all green fruit to ripen indoors


See more about tomatoes

5 Great New Tomato Varieties

Episode 9: Top Tomato Varieties (Let’s Argue About Plants podcast)


Previous: What’s Wrong With Your Tomatoes? Next: Help Pollinate Your Tomato Plants to Get More Fruit
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