Grow to eat: get your tomatoes ready for the great outdoors

Jack Wallington

If you grow tomatoes from seed and don’t have a greenhouse, chances are, like me, you’ll be desperate to move seedlings off your crowded windowsill and out to the plot or growbag. Unfortunately, the weather isn’t quite there yet, but almost!

So it’s time to prepare for planting out. If you missed sowing, buy tomato seedlings from nurseries now to catch up. Begin by hardening off your tomatoes this week in the daytime, avoiding frosts at night. Hardening off is the process of carrying plants out of the house in the morning in your dressing gown, then back in the afternoon to puzzled looks from the neighbours. Or, in scientific language, exposing seedlings gradually to the elements ’til they’ve beefed up.

Tomato seedlings Credit: AJ Drury / Stockimo / Alamy 

Mine have grown leggy in our flat due to the lack of light but no problem, I’ll be planting slightly deeper, so half the stem is buried. Rather than harming the plants, in tomatoes this encourages root growth up the stem, creating stronger plants.

I grow two types of tomato plants, bushes such as ‘Vilma’ that require little support, and cordons such as ‘Outdoor Girl’, ‘Artisan Mix’ and ‘Green Zebra’. Cordons (aka “rubbish climbers”) sound a faff but are my preference these days because they lift the toms further from the slimy grasp of snails.

Whack a strong 7ft wooden stake 18in into the ground, one per plant, spacing at least 16in (40cm) apart to prevent fungal disease like blight. When danger of frost has passed and the first flowers appear, plant your toughened toms next to the stake, tying in as the plant grows. Pinch off cordon side shoots, feed and water well.

I’m so excited about home-grown tomatoes that I’m currently ruffling my face on my seedlings for a tomatoey hit. Really.

  • Find Jack’s Garden Blog of the Year at jackwallington.com. Follow him on Twitter @jackwallington and Instagram @jackjjw