I am more excited than ever to plant tomato seeds after spending some time last Saturday with Craig LeHoullier, author of Epic Tomatoes and Lisa Hilgenberg, horticulturist at Chicago Botanic Garden. They shared their experiences growing tomatoes with a room full of eager garden bloggers. Then, I attended his lecture at the Chicago Botanic Garden along with a room filled to capacity with tomato-loving gardeners.
Craig LeHoullier named the Cherokee Purple tomato in 1990. He co-hosts an annual tomato tasting event called Tomatopalooza in Raleigh, North Carolina. He is deeply involved in the Dwarf Tomato Breeding Project. He grows LOTS of tomatoes in containers in his driveway. Craig is passionate about tomatoes!
His enthusiasm is infectious. He shared his tips to planting and growing tomatoes in containers.
Timing is everything. Count back eight weeks from the last frost date to determine when to plant seeds. After four weeks, transplant seedlings to larger pots. After an additional four weeks, plant them outside.
Don’t skimp on potting mix. Use fresh soilless potting mix every year – don’t re-use last year’s potting mix.
Plant seeds properly. Barely cover seeds with potting mix, and loosely cover pots with plastic wrap. Craig flips his plastic wrap every day.
Tomatoes need light. After seeds germinate, get them under lights as soon as possible. Don’t worry if seedlings get leggy. Stretched seedlings can be planted deeply later.
Harden off plants. Acclimate tomato plants to their new environment gradually before planting outside.
Plant tomatoes properly. Remove leaves toward the bottom of stems and plant them deep. Roots will form along buried stems. Apply a layer of mulch to help retain moisture in the soil and to prevent water from splashing from soil to foliage. Allow enough space between plants – at least three feet apart – for good air circulation, minimizing disease risk.
Want more tomato tips? Buy Craig’s book, Epic Tomatoes. You’ll learn everything you need to know to grow more than 200 varieties of tomatoes. You’ll even learn how to collect seeds at the end of the season so you’ll have them to plant for next year.
Gather your pots, soil and seeds and garden with me!