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Knowing when to start your tomato plants

This Tomato must have had a good start
This Tomato must have had a good start

Tomatoes are one of the most popular veggies in home vegetable gardens around the world. Some lucky folks live in climates which permit them to directly seed their tomatoes to their respective garden patches each spring and enjoy bumper crops. Those of us in more temperate zones, like for example Zone 6-B need to start their plants a little earlier, indoors, for best results.

To know when to start the seedling takes just a bit of first grade math and a few facts. First, it’s important to know what hardiness zone we are in. US citizens can get this information from the USDA Interactive Zone Map just by typing in their zip code.

A resident of West Milford, NJ after typing in “07480” finds out that the town is divided into Zones 6A and 6B. No problems; when this happens simply use the overall numeric zone (6) to avoid errors. Knowing your zone yields interesting information about temperature variations, but it also helps you find your first and last frost dates, information you will need to decide when to start your tomatoes.

Many gardening sites offer first and last frost date information by hardiness zone; for one such click here and enter your zone.

A Zone 6 gardener discovers that on average, the last frost date of the year will occur around April 15th and the first one by about October 15th. Now we can decide when to start our tomatoes indoors.

What must we keep in mind about tomato plants?

They can be planted 4 weeks after the final frost date

They can be started 6 to 10 weeks prior to being transplanted.

The seeds take about 7 days to germinate.

Okay, for early tomatoes we count ahead 30 days from the final frost date, we can safely transplant May 15 or later.

Starting 6 weeks before transplant we back off 42 days from May 15th, plus another 7 to germinate is 49 days. We will start those tomatoes somewhere around March 26th.

If we intend to start the tomatoes as soon as possible we start 10 weeks before transplant – 70 days, plus 7 to germinate, and we will be starting tomatoes as early as the last week in February.

Do you have your seeds and potting soil ready? It’s nearly time to start the garden!

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