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How to Buy Tomato Plants Through the Mail: What to Know

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Updated 4.3.24

Whether you want to know how to buy tomato plants through the mail or in person at a garden center, a few principles apply in both cases.

For instance, you need to choose tomato varieties that will work well in your garden’s climate and growing conditions.

Plus, you want to be aware of what a healthy tomato plant looks like – dark green foliage, a strong central stem, the absence of fruit or flowering (which indicates possible over fertilization) and the absence of pests and diseases.

(Here is some more good general information to use to know how to buy tomato plants, whether at a garden center or online.)

But when you order tomato plants by mail, there are a few additional pieces of information that are useful to know.

Know the Vendor's Return Policy

Check the vendor’s return policy before you order plants. The policy will be posted on the vendor’s website or in the garden catalog.

Vendors are in the business of putting quality stock into your hands. Most of them, like you, have a love affair with gardening and appreciate healthy, productive plants. It also in a vendor’s best interest to make sure you’re satisfied with your order because tomato plants are annuals and you need to purchase (or start) new ones each year. That’s a big reason most vendors have a generous return or replacement policy. Check for it and know what conditions apply in the unlikely event that your tomato plants are not healthy when delivered. Put your mind even further to rest when you read a vendor’s customer reviews.

Know When Plants Are Shipped

Vendors use greenhouses to grow and maintain their stock, so they are able to schedule shipments based the best planting time for their customers. Tomato plants are shipped to arrive after the National Weather Service estimate last frost date in your area and when your nighttime temperatures stay reliably above 50.º

Find out when your vendor ships stock for your area so you can set aside time to plant them when they arrive. Many vendors send an email or text message to notify you that they have shipped your merchandise. If you are not sure when the vendor has scheduled delivery, ask.

Know How Plants Are Shipped

3 things to know when you buy tomato plants through the mail

Most gardening and nursery vendors ship tomato plants by priority mail to ensure they will arrive within 1 to 2 days (three at most.)

Plants are well-watered before they leave the vendor.  They are packed in units, whether as single plants or in multiple packs. Each unit is protected from the others in the box with packing material, such as shredded paper, Styrofoam peanuts, or air packs. Packing material keeps plants from being tossed around during shipping.

Know What to Do When Tomato Plants Arrive

You don’t need to be at home when tomato plants are delivered, but you certainly don’t want to be away on a two-week vacation.

Once the package arrives, check plants right away. Be sure you received the types of tomatoes you ordered. Compare the invoice with the package contents.

Remove the plants from the package and set them in an well-protected area with good circulation. Check stalks and leaves for damage. Inspect leaves for curling or discoloration, which could indicate a disease, poor lighting, under-watering, over-watering, or extreme conditions en route. Report any damage immediately to the vendor in order to get a replacement or refund.

Check the soil and water the tomato plants – whether just a bit if media is moist or a bigger amount if it is dry. Water will help the plants recover from travel shock.

Know When to Plant

Tomato plants are hardened off in the greenhouse before they are shipped but it is a good idea to harden them off again before transplanting into your garden. Set them in a cold frame or in a protected area for a few days and bring them in at night.

Check your local forecast. Make sure nighttime temperatures are forecast to stay above 50ºF before you set plants in the ground. If the weather becomes cold or soggy you can protect tomato plants with protective coverings or teepees.

Most vendors include planting instructions with the shipment.

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Tomato transplanting mistakes to avoid when setting out plants ...

Check out our Planting Tomatoes Pinterest board for more helpful information...

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