Purchasing transplants from a nursery can provide you with ready-to-plant vegetables without the time commitment of raising plants from seeds. Since tomatoes do best when transplanted instead of direct-seeded, buying nursery tomatoes is a smart, time-saving choice. But how do you know what tomato plants to choose?
Whether you buy from a small nursery or big-box garden store, look for tomato plants that are at least 8 inches tall with tall, straight stems. The stem should be at least the width of a pencil.Depending on whether or not you plan to prune, you may prefer a plant with a single stem as opposed to a plant with double or v-shaped stems.
The tomato plant should also have four to six true leaves, the leaves that develop after the cotyledon leaves. Plants with fewer leaves are not old enough or strong enough to withstand transplanting. Do not purchase a plant that is already flowering or producing fruit—these are older plants and may not produce as much yield as a younger plant. In addition, avoid signs of disease or damage, like yellow leaves, dry leaves or insect damage.
Buying multiple tomatoes for transplant is fine as long as each plant is in an individual section of the transplant tray. When two or more plants are grown together, it can be impossible to separate their roots and if the two are planted together they could have stunted growth.
In addition to assessing the general health of the plant, note the plant variety and days to maturity. If you plan to save seeds for future planting, choose heirloom or open-pollinated varieties. Disease-resistant varieties are also a wise choice for maintaining healthy tomato plants.
Once you choose the perfect tomato plant to transplant, wait until a few weeks after the last average frost before planting it in the garden. While you wait for the appropriate spring temperatures to arrive, acclimate your young tomato plant to outdoor conditions by placing the plant outside for a few hours during the warmest part of the day.