How To Grow Tomatoes Indoors
We've covered lots of ground when it comes to growing tomatoes. From planting and tending heirloom varieties to pruning and avoiding mistakes, we've learned a lot about the potential pitfalls and eventual tasty triumphs of tomato growing. Those lessons usually happen out of doors, where our tomatoes grow staked in the sun. Lately, however, we've been learning the benefits of growing tomatoes indoors. The first lesson: It can be done! Quite successfully, in fact. If you're currently without garden space or simply prefer to grow veggies indoors where you can more easily control environmental factors like temperature and pest control, read on for some tips on how to start tomatoes indoors.
What You Need
Specific environmental factors need to be met in order to keep your indoor tomato plants thriving. First of all, they need good lighting: at least six (and up to eight or ten) hours of direct sunlight and accompanying warmth every day. You'll want to place your tomato plant in a sunny window, or you can invest in an LED grow lamp (like this one) for a more reliable light source. Tomatoes love warm weather, so keeping your plants in toasty temps (70 degrees or higher) will help them develop and can mimic sunny summer environs.
To get the plants started, use seed trays or even an empty egg carton filled with planting mix. A seed-starting potting mix that's geared toward vegetable planting is more likely to help you avoid the fungal and bacterial issues often associated with topsoils. A hydroponic system can also be a great strategy for growing tomatoes indoors. (This one has a built-in LED lamp, and this one, a small self-watering mason jar starter kit, can help you dip a toe into indoor planting.) Once the plants emerge and grow larger, you'll need fertilizer, plant stakes or a miniature trellis, and bigger pots or planters with drainage features to keep the roots from becoming soggy.
If you're wondering when to start tomato seeds indoors (and if you intend eventually to transplant them into gardens or containers outdoors), then sow them about four to six weeks before the anticipated date of your area's last spring frost.
Choosing Your Tomatoes
Your first instinct may be to find the tastiest tomatoes imaginable, but there are a few more things to consider when choosing which tomatoes to grow. For an indoor plant, your best bet will be to choose a compact variety that produces small fruits, like a cherry tomato or grape tomato. Hanging cultivars can also be good for small spaces. You can buy a starter kit, which will set you up for success, or you can find seeds at your local garden store.
Popular smaller varieties include Better Bush, Candyland Red, Celano, Early Wonder, Fantastico, Firefly, Jelly Bean, Matt's Wild Cherry, Midnight Snack, Patio Choice Yellow, Red Choice, Red Rocket, Red Torch, Terenzo, Tiny Tim, Toy Boy, Tumbling Tom, Valentine, and Yellow Pear.
Avoiding Tomato Issues
If your tomatoes aren't thriving indoors, check on the light and water they're receiving. Adding fertilizer or amending the soil can also help. If flowers are appearing on your tomato plants but no fruits are developing, this could be caused by too-low nighttime temperatures or too little water. If your leaves are starting to wither and curl, this could be due to high temperatures, overwatering, and aggressive pruning. While tomatoes need specific environmental ideals to thrive indoors, there's usually an apparent fix for what ails them. Keep an eye on things to ensure they're getting the care they need.
Get your tomatoes started, give them attention and plenty of light, and you'll be on your way to enjoying the fruits of your labor. Once you've had your first harvest, include them in some of our favorite tomato recipes, like Heirloom Tomato Pie, Marinated Tomato-and-Herb Salad and Pasta with Marinated Tomatoes. If you have more tomatoes than you know what to do with, check out these 75 great tomato recipes and these 42 fresh tomato recipes.
Have you ever tried growing tomatoes indoors? What's your vegetable garden looking like this season?