Tomato Transplanting Mistakes to Avoid When Setting Out Plants in the Garden

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Updated 4.18.24

It’s all well and good to grow healthy tomato seedlings. But deadly tomato transplanting mistakes can cost you the entire crop. Here’s the dirt on the 10 biggest tomato transplanting mistakes to avoid.

Mistake #1: Ignoring the forecast

Even if it’s past your last frost date, check the 10-day weather projections. Cold evenings or a series of rainy days are not good for newly-planted tomatoes.

Mistake #2: Breaking the roots

Overwatered seedling root systems have a tendency to break.

Moisten soil only lightly before planting tomatoes, but be sure not to overwater.

Then carefully remove seedlings from cups or cells.

Heavily-moistened soil will fall away from roots, damaging them.

If a plant is root-bound, gently work to loosen the ball and spread roots out.

Mistake #3: Overlooking your tired soil

As you plant, remember that this is your last chance to get the soil right for your tomatoes this season. Ask yourself ...

Did you test your soil(Amend accordingly.) Is it too heavy? (Add some sand.) Is it too wet? (Wait for a few rain-free days before planting.) A fresh application of compost is always a welcome treat for new tomato plants.

Mistake #4: Planting tomatoes too deeply

Avoid 10 mistakes when transplanting tomato seedlings and growing tomatoes. With Tomato Dirt

The first few inches of the soil are warmer than those below.

When plants are first set out, help them keep their feet warm. Dig a shallow trench and allow lower part of stem to lie horizontally.

Let the top of the plant remain exposed above ground, but don’t force it upward.

The buried stem will develop roots and the rest of the plant will naturally grow vertically towards the light.

Mistake #5: Leaving a long stem above ground

Avoid leggy plants by pinching off the seedling’s lowest branches and burying a good part of the stem below the soil.

Mistake #6: Over-fertilizing new tomato seedlings

You can burn out new plants with too much food. Use just a small amount of fertilizer (if any) when planting.

Mistake #7: Baking your tomato plants

Try to plant when the weather is overcast. You make a mistake if you don’t provide shade for them during their first few days in their new home. Adjusting to the garden is serious business for your tomato plants.

Mistake #8: Letting your tomato plants go thirsty

Newly-transplanted tomato seedlings need regular watering in order to adjust to transplant shock. Water them daily for a week. (Drip hoses are a good solution.)

Mistake #9: Ignoring pests

Beware that cutworms love to snack on new tomato plants. Place collars or sticks around tomato stems where they meet the soil to keep those nasty pests at bay. (Learn more about tomato cut worms.) If you’ve been hardening off plants outside, your tomatoes may have already attracted aphids. Check undersides of leaves carefully and treat accordingly.

Mistake #10: Staking tomatoes too late

If you wait to stake tomatoes until they need it (several weeks into the season), you will damage the root system as you press cagesladders, trellising, or poles into the soil. Stake tomatoes soon after setting them out in the garden. 

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