When to plant tomatoes outside to avoid ‘disaster’

Alan Titchmarsh gives advice on how to plant tomatoes

Tomatoes can be grown with ease and have a high yield, making them ideal for new gardeners. While raising them from seeds is relatively straightforward, a mistake many people make is planting them outside too soon. According to gardening expert Patrick Vernuccio (@thefrenchiegardener on Instagram), it can be disastrous for the small red fruits if the weather conditions aren’t right.

According to the Royal Horticultural Society, tomatoes should be sown from late February to mid-March if being grown under cover, or from late March to early April if grown outdoors.

While this is a good guideline to follow, fluctuating weather conditions can threaten young crops. And with chilly mornings still felt across the UK, it’s only now getting warm enough for tomatoes to thrive.

In a video posted on his Instagram page, urban gardening author and educator, Patrick Vernuccio said: “If you can’t wait to plant your tomato plants, believe me, it’s better to be patient.”

This is because, in early spring, the weather can “shift” from sunshine to hailstones or frost, which would be “a disaster” for seedlings.

He explained that finding the perfect opportunity to take them outdoors relies heavily on local frost dates.

Gardeners can determine their last frost date by heading to plantmaps.com and finding their weather forecast.

The last spring date should be easy to see by accessing the country map and zooming into the precise location.

Patrick said: “Do not plant any summer varieties before this date and make sure to have a reliable weather forecast app.”

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While the frost dates are relatively accurate, exact weather conditions at different points in the month can still impact the success of young crops.

To avoid a spoiled plant, the gardening expert recommended waiting even longer to grow tomatoes outside – until the temperatures are consistently in double digits.

He warned: “Do not plant tomatoes outside if the temperatures at night are still under 10C.”

Tomatoes need to be kept well above freezing to survive, and low temperatures below this threshold can result in slow growth and problems with fruiting.

Patrick also urged gardeners to consider whether the seedlings are strong enough before taking them outside.

In the video, he showed smaller stalks growing in seed module trays to demonstrate a “weak” plant.

The thin green stems were flimsy and had just a few small leaves on them, which proved they were not ready to withstand an exposed environment.

Of course, this doesn’t mean they won’t grow stronger, though the gardener recommended repotting them to speed up the process.

He suggested that other tomato growers move the small seedling modules into a larger pot filled with fresh soil.

The key here is to have a tall container that will support the growing stem and encourage a taller seedling.

This should then be watered and left in a warm, sunny spot indoors – perhaps a kitchen windowsill, for a week or two more.

Patrick said: “They will get more vigorous and soon ready for the outside world.”

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