Planted too early?

Asked March 15, 2020, 2:13 PM EDT

Hi, I followed the planting dates on the seed packets except I may have planted my tomatoes too early :( They don't usually grow so quickly but I got a new seed starter tray that apparently works really well. Are they a loss, should I just pull them out and start over in early April? Or is there something else I can do to keep them growing inside successfully? They are about 4 inches tall at the moment. Thanks!

Hennepin County Minnesota

1 Response

Thanks for the question.

I have gone down the route that you are experiencing many times. First of all, do not yank anything out. Over the years I have developed some procedures to deal with the problem facing you and have found them to be reasonably successful.

Obviously you can’t transfer anything outside. But on the other hand if you just sit on your hands, your poor tomatoes will get all leggy and when the time is appropriate they will not adjust to being outside. So here are my suggestions:

1). Get some peat pots that are about three inches in diameter and about four inches tall. Transplant a single seedling to each pot using fresh potting soil. By using peat pots when it gets time to transplant things outside (late May?) the shock of so doing will be minimal. Just put the peat pots into the ground and/or patio pots.

2). Put these peat pots into a rubber maid dish pan. Then you can water the pots without having things flow all over the place.

3). Once outside temperatures approach 60 degrees on a rather consistent basis, acclimate your tomatoes to outside temperatures by exposing them to partial light for a few hours a day, gradually increasing the light exposure over a time period of a couple weeks. You may still see some bleaching of the leaves but the plants themselves should recover.

4). For the time being put these peat pots someplace in your house where they will be exposed to maximum sunlight.

5). Continue to water them every four or five days but do NOT add any fertilizer (e.g., Miracle Gro) that is high in nitrogen as this would stimulate vegetative growth which will cause the seedlings to become very leggy.

6). Get some potash that is essentially potassium nitrate (KNO3). On the package label it should indicate that it consists of about 60% KNO3. Dilute this tenfold by adding 1 tablespoon of potash to 9 tablespoons of water. Adjust these amounts to your particular situation. Add a small amount of this diluted solution to your seedlings about once a week. The potassium will stimulate root growth which is what you want your tomatoes to do at this time of the year.

I have followed this procedure for many years and it does work. There should be no need for you to scrap everything and start over.

Good Luck