After you have started your tomato seedlings indoors you must take the proper steps to allow for a hassle free transfer to the outdoors. Commonly this process is known as hardening off. The plants you have grown are used to a nice controlled climate, and must get accustomed to the more severe temperatures of the outdoors. Most indoor environments will only have a change of five or ten degrees, however in many outdoor climates the plants may experience up to a thirty degree a day temperature change. Additionally the plants you have started indoors weren’t exposed to wind or the strong rays of the sun.
Therefore you must get the plants used to the more extreme conditions they will face slowly. The entire hardening off process should take about two weeks. Start out by taking your seedlings from the controlled climate and put them in a partially shaded area for ½ the first day. Gradually increase the time they are outside each day. For example the next day leave them out for 1 full hour. Work your way up to a full 8 hours a day. Then you can leave the seedlings out overnight. Keep in mind that once the plants are exposed to the strong rays of the sun, they will need more water then normal as the soil will dry quickly. If you are expecting severe weather like a major thunderstorm it is generally best to keep them protected.
Now that the plants are used to the outdoor climate you are ready to move them from the temporary pots they are in to the garden. Tomato seedlings will grow roots out of the stem so you should plant them slightly deeper than the soil line. This provides for a strong base. It is generally a good idea to mix in some organic fertilizer or compost to the hole where you are planting the tomatoes to give them the nutrients they need. After you have transplanted the tomatoes make sure you give them plenty of water. It is recommended that you transplant the tomato seedlings in the late afternoon, so they are not immediately exposed to the strong sunlight.
As the plants grow you should keep them weed free, so the tomatoes don’t have to compete for the nutrients. You may want to mulch around the plants with lawn clippings to keep the weeds under control. Throughout the season make sure you side dress with an organic fertilizer or fish emulsion solution. We will explore other tips and tricks to develop the best tomatoes in a separate article.