When the short days of winter make you long for fresh summer tomatoes, get a head start on the season by growing extra-early tomatoes in containers. When treated like sun-loving houseplants, fast-maturing patio or cherry tomatoes potted up now will produce fruit while still indoors.
When the last frost has passed, plants should be loaded with ready-to-ripen tomatoes and can be moved outdoors.
7 Tips to Grow Your Earliest Tomatoes Ever:
- In selecting plants, check plant tags for labels such as “patio type” or “compact for containers.” Choose two stocky seedlings such as ‘Better Bush,’ ‘Tumbling Tom’ or ‘Sweet N Neat.’
- Choose two pairs of lightweight, dark-colored plastic containers for growing tomato plants. The smaller set should be 6 inches in diameter, or two inches larger than the plants’ current pots. As your plants grow, you will need to replant into two 8- to 10-inch containers.
- Make space for your plants in the sunniest spot in your home, near a south- or west-facing window. Cover a shelf or tabletop with a white cloth to reflect light.
- Water seedlings before transplanting to 6-inch containers, setting them slightly deeper than they grew in their seedling pots. Place on small plates to catch runoff water, and position a few inches from the window. Water as needed to keep the soil lightly moist at all times. Repot the plants into 8- to 10-inch containers after about three weeks.
- Gently tap tomato stems to shake out pollen after yellow blossoms appear. Tomato blossoms are self-fertile, so insect activity is not required for pollination, but wind and vibration are needed to move pollen within the open flowers. Blowing on the open blossoms early in the day also can help the flowers set fruit.
- Water tomatoes with a half-ration of organic, water-soluble plant food once a week, starting when the first flowers appear.
- Move plants to a bright spot outside, sheltered from the wind, during periods of mild weather. Bring plants back indoors if nighttime temperatures dip below 50 degrees Fahrenheit.