How to label and grow tomatoes from seed for best tracking and record-keeping

If you’ve ever neglected to label a tray of seeds, or mixed them, you understand the frustration of not knowing what will come up when.

When you grow tomatoes from seed it's easy to jumble varieties.

If you are growing other vegetables from seed, too, then you might have some real confusion on your hands.

Are those germinating seedlings tomatoes, bell peppers, squash, cucumbers, eggplant, or a mystery vegetable?

Not only are there good reasons to label your tomato seedling trays, but it's really easy to do ... once you have a system.

Why label planted tomato seeds?

  • To know what you’ve got. Mark tomato varieties so you can plant them your pre-chosen spots in the garden, especially when you’ve started more than one or two varieties. Unmarked plants have less of a chance for success in the garden or on the patio.
  • To care for what you’ve got. Mark tomatoes to increase the likelihood that you’ll care for each variety as it needs. Heirloom tomatoes, for instance, can be more susceptible to diseases and need extra monitoring.
  • To track performance. Find out what varieties work best in your garden. Use your notes about starting dates, germination, hardening off and planting in the garden to maximize decisions in coming seasons.
tomato seedling in soda bottle labeled with marker

How to label tomato seeds in trays

What to use
Make free or inexpensive labels from popsicle sticks, plastic sticks cut from used yogurt containers, masking tape, ½” strips cut from aluminum pie pans, or write on the pots themselves (as in the case of plastic or paper cups or recycled cartons). You can also purchase garden labels at very low cost.

Best marking tools
What’s the point in labeling your tomatoes if markings get rubbed off when you handle the pots or rinsed off when you water the plants? Then, mid-summer you wonder which tomato varieties are which, creating all kinds of confusion. Use markers that are long-lasting, like garden marking pens (identified as "non-fading"), industrial strength paint markers, or Sharpie® Industrial pens (regular Sharpies® have been known to fade in 4-6 weeks).

Tagging tips

  • Insert popsicle stick, plastic stick, aluminum strip, or garden label into the soil. You’ll be able to reuse them when you set plants out into the garden. Or attach masking tape to pot or write name directly on pot. If you use aluminum strips cut from recycled pie plates, use a sharp pointed object to inscribe name in the metal.
  • When sowing seeds in a flat, mark the entire flat. Figure out a way to show which section of the flat is which variety.
  • When you move each plant into its own pot, label it.
  • Make sure labels surfaces are dry when you mark them.

Taking notes
Do it. You’ll be glad you did. Use a small notebook or even a loose sheet of paper. Record the following information:

  • tomato variety
  • planting date
  • germination date
  • date first true set of leaves appear
  • transplanting date
  • special plant strengthening tips
  • feeding
  • hardening off dates and exposure
  • planting date
  • flowering date
  • first pick
  • last pick
  • pests
  • diseases

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