Before you plant your tomatoes, make sure the soil is prepared. It should be loose and drain well so it’s moist without staying soggy. To keep the soil fertile, feed it with organic matter about one week before you seed or transplant.
*Shop for the best plants: Some people select tomato plants that are too tall and leggy! Perhaps they think that bigger means better; but with tomato transplants that's not the case.
The best transplants are fairly young and small. Good ones are 6 to 7 weeks old, and about 8 inches tall. They should have plenty of dark leaves and most importantly, a solid, thick stem.
Inspect all plants closely. if you see signs of disease or insects (particular the small whitefly), put them back.
*Try several varieties: It's good insurance to get two or three varieties. In the case of disease or drought, you may find that one variety fights off trouble better than another.
*Harden off plants: Whether you buy plants or grow them at home, they need to be hardened off for a week or so. Start by setting them on the back porch. Then gradually shift them out to a sunny open spot where they can take the weather all they long and all night, too, if there's no chance of a surprise frost.
*Transplant on a cloudy day: Set out tomatoes in the late afternoon or evening. If it's cloudy and mild, all the better.
Plants don't appreciate hot sun or a whipping wind for their first few days in the garden. The shock of transplanting is bad enough; they prefer to take on the elements a little at the time. Water the plants to hold roots ans soil together. When you lift out a dry plant, the dirt goes everywhere and the roots get shocked.
*Don't forget the cutworm collar: It's a shame to lose a transplant to pesky cutworms. Even if you're not really expecting a problem with them, wrap a newspaper collar around the stem of each plant. The collar should be at least 2 inches wide, 1 inch below ground and 1 above.
*Set the plants in a shallow trench: With this technique, most of the root system is only 2 or 3 inches away from the surface.
This helps the plant gather plenty of heat and produce extra roots.
To transplant, carefully take a plant from its container, pinch off most of the lower leaves, leaving just the top cluster. The cutworm collar goes on, then lay the plant in the ground, cover the root ball and exposed stem with 2 or 3 inches of soil. Most of the stem is buried. All along it, new roots will form.
Like the main root system, these new roots will reach down for food and water as the plant grows. In a dry spell, these extra roots can be a lifesaver.
*Don't skimp water: Tomato plants need lots of water for 3 or 4 days after transplanting. Soak them after planting and keep the ground moist for a few days after. Don't skimp - pour it on. We've never seen anyone over-water a tomato plant.
Whatever you can do to gather extra heat for your plants or to shut out winds will help. Use cardboard, brown paper, wrap-around cages, or whatever else you have. Results? A 50 percent increase in yield, blocking the wind and bringing in extra heat.
*Click here or on the Tomato picture for Gazpacho recipe