For Early Tomatoes, Try This

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early tomatoes on vine with cage

Use a milk jug to create a cloche that protects plants from cold.

Make your own protection by simply cutting the bottom out of a plastic gallon milk jug and placing it over the plant until the weather warms.

Want to bite into your first homegrown tomato soon? Here are four easy ways to speed the harvest. Normally, tomatoes are planted at least two weeks after the last frost, but with steps 2 and 3, you can cheat the calendar. If you live where the weather is already warm, step 1 is all you need for early tomatoes.

1.  Choose an early-maturing variety. Try Early Girl (50 days), Bush Early Girl (54 days), Juliet (60 days), Celebrity (65 days), Husky Cherry Red (65 days), or Super Sweet 100 (65 days).

2.  Plant early and protect from the cold. You can mail-order commercial items such as Wall-O-Water or row covers to provide cold protection for tomato plants set out early. You also can make your own protection by simply cutting the bottom out of a plastic gallon milk jug and placing it over the plant until the weather warms. (Be sure to remove the top for ventilation.) Place a stake by the plant and slip the jug over the stake to keep it from blowing off.

Use plastic to warm the ground when planting.

Clear plastic warms the soil to create a more suitable environment for heat-loving tomatoes.

3.  Plant early and warm the soil. Plant your tomato in a row covered with clear plastic so that sunlight warms the soil under the plastic. Later you can cover the plastic with straw mulch to block sunlight, keeping the soil from getting too hot. Cut planting holes in the plastic and set plants through them. Be sure the soil is well watered. Drip irrigation or a soaker hose comes in very handy here to be sure that water gets to the roots under the plastic.

4.  Spray plants with Blossom Set spray. This optional hormone spray will cause fruit to set earlier. You’ll find it at some garden centers, or you can order it online.

36 thoughts on “For Early Tomatoes, Try This

  1. Does Bonnie have a grape tomato and also how many different Roma’s do you have?

    • Hello Judy,
      Sure do! Try this tomato chooser, you can choose bite size tomatoes or paste tomatoes to see all the different varieties – along with their description- that Bonnie Plants produces. – Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  2. Can I plant lettuce beneath tomatoes to save space & prevent water/dirt splashing up to the tomatoes?

    • Hello Vanito,
      I have seen lettuce growing beneath other plants mainly because lettuce does not grow well in warm weather like tomatoes and it benefits from the bit of shade. Depending on your climate this may or may not be a good idea. It is true that the bit of shade will help when temperatures start to heat up (lettuce), but too much shade is not good. During the heat of summer when tomaotes are still going, the lettuce will fade out. Great idea, but I still like using organic mulches – keeps weeds down, mediates soil moisture, and keeps those tomato leaves dry.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  3. We have purchased our Bonnie tomato plants maybe a little early this year. We leave them out in the daytime (50-60′s) and bring them in at night. They are starting to turn yellow on the leaves. Should we plant them and just cover until temps are ok?
    Thanks. In advance
    Jill

    • Hello Jill,
      Yes, you can plant the tomatoes outside if you cover them at night so they are not subject to the cold temperatures. I have used row covers and inverted 2 liter bottles. They will really start to grow when your soil temperature starts to warm up.
      -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  4. We have just planted our Early Girl and Big Boy variety tomatoes (mid February high 60′s). We live in an area that temperatures reach 110 degrees by mid-June through August, if not later.. Is there anyway to get our plants through the hot summer in order to get a second crop? At what point is my tomatoe plant not going to put on anymore fruit? I have had tomotoes flower in the fall but never any fruit.

    • Hi Megan,
      We have two solutions for you! This article on pruning your tired Fall tomato plants will help. Also, check out our heat-tolerant varieties that were made for the hot, hot world in which you live. Many varieties will not set fruit when temps are in the 90s and evening temps are too high. These are found to push on — though 110 degrees is too hot for any pollination to occur. They’ll survive and push through to produce when it cools off a bit. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • Hi Rick,

      We typically don’t recommend pruning tomato plants as the wounds created can allow pests and diseases to enter the plant. Some gardeners do like to prune lower branches, though, to keep soil from splashing on the leaves. Cutting 12 to 18 inches from the ground ought to do it. This is one of the FAQs on our Growing Tomatoes page. You might be interested in reading that info as well. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  5. My tomato plant is about 5 1/2 feet tall (early girl) we have noticed bumps, blisters on the upper stems of the plants. Any idea what that may be? The tomatoes aren’t growing to the 6-8 ounce size. They vary in size but lately they are the size of cherry tomatoes then turn red. All of the tomatoes skins seem to be very tuff. Leaves have had problems with mildew or fungus and we have treated with Neem II. Any input would be great.
    Thanks
    Peggy

    • Hi Peggy,

      Bumpy stems is one of the oddities mentioned in our tomato quirks article. This is usually nothing bad. It’s just the root primordia, or earliest stage of a root that would develop if the stem were underground. They are most common in wet weather. Occasionally, though, the bumps signal underground root damage. If you think your plants could have a larger problem or disease, please send your question, preferably with a photo, to our Ask an Expert service. I hope this helps!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  6. Planted 3 kinds Bonnie tomatoes 2nd week April Norman Oklahoma. Plants 5 feet tall with lots of green tomatoes. Just picked first red one and found bottom rotten with evidence of mold. I water ground around plants each day. What did I do wrong. Just picked 2nd red tomato with same problem. What to do?
    Thanks,
    Concerned gardner

    • Hi Ron,

      It sounds like you’re seeing blossom-end rot on your tomatoes, which is a very common problem. Read our article “Conquer Blossom End Rot” for more info and solutions. If that doesn’t look like what you’re seeing, let me know. Happy growing!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  7. I live in lake Tahoe. What is the coldest a tomatoe plant can take. Also, is it a good idea to use a heating pad under the pot?

    • Hi Jeanie,

      Tomato plants will survive down to frost or freezing temperatures, but they stop growing or producing at around 50 degrees Fahrenheit. As long as your average temperatures are above the 50s, your plants should grow. A heating pad can help, but be sure you’re using one designated for plant use. If temps dip down, you can also cover plants with row cover fabric that lets light in but keeps plants warm. Happy growing in lovely Lake Tahoe!

      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  8. I have tomato plants which were planted about April 1st. They have very small tomatoes, but have also gotten (very) tiny white insects on some of the leaves and stems. I don’t think they fly. The leaves which have these insects are very wilted. Also, I’m trying to grow them organically as much as possible. How can I get rid of these insects?

    • Hi Jackie,
      They could be aphids or whiteflies. For your wishes of organic solutions, insecticidal soap will take care of both of these pests if the population is not too large. Make sure it is labeled for tomatoes and follow all label instructions. Let us know how it works out! ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

  9. I have 4 tomato plants “Better Boy” they’re about 31/2 feet tall and is in a raised 4×4 bed…Is this size bed too small? Currently, I have 1 tomato on each plant, is this sign of slow growth? Brenda

    • Hi Brenda,
      Congratulations on your Better Boys! Sounds like they are off to a great start. Many raised bed gardeners like to grow veggies more tightly spaced with great success. While your variety is an indeterminate and will get tall (and require caging/staking), you will be fine with four in that bed — but no more! Some gardeners also attest that pruning off extra vines to keep the plant more compact for less (but flavorful) fruit. ~Mary Beth, Bonnie Plants

    • I bought 3 Red Beefsteak Heirloom Tomatoes in one container. Can I seporate them without harming them or should I plant all together in one hole? I have Llama manure in my garden. What other nutrinents should I add? I am in Florida and have very sandy soil. I also have your other tomatoes, peppers, squash, and cucumbers.

      • Hi Raylene,
        You can separate them by carefully teasing the plants apart being sure to not damage the root balls. Each tomato needs at least a 5-gallon (18-inch diameter). Vegetables need a good soil, one that drains well, but retains moisture. You can accompolish this in a sandy soil with the addition of organic matter. Adjust the soil pH if needed. Soil test are available for a nominal charge through your local county extension office. Home testing kits are also available. This article on the basics of fertilizing will help you keep your tomatoes growing throughout the season.
        -Danielle, Bonnie Plants

  10. I have a raised garden bed with 18 tomatoe plants, what is the best way to stake them? thankyou

  11. Have some Bonnie tomatoes on Better Boy and Big Boy.The tomatoes are about lemon size right now.Use a few tricks here in North Middle TN.Don’t really like the flavor of the early tomatoes,so I
    ‘cheat ” with the ones I prefer.
    What is the min. temp at night for happy plants?If it is gonna be under 50, I cover with large Trash cans.Or should I be covering at 55?

    • Hi James,

      In our Growing Tomatoes article, we say that tomatoes stop setting fruit at 55 degrees. You don’t necessarily need to cover them at this temperature but you should expect them to pause their growth. Covering is recommended if you expect a frost. We use row cover fabric, but your method should work as long as you uncover the plants during the day.

      Happy gardening!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  12. What is the proper way to start a tomato plant from seed? I typically have no problem with getting the seeds to sprout and start growing, but then they grow too fast and tall and end up falling over before the stem is strong and thick enough to support the weight of the plant.

    • Hi Chris,

      We grow plants from seed in our greenhouses, but the plants we sell to customers like you are “starter plants” that already have strong stems and are ready to plant in the ground! Bonnie Plants doesn’t sell seeds. You can read more about what makes our plants different here.

      Happy gardening!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

    • Seedlings that grow fast and tall but have weak stems are often due to inadequate light, either too little intensity or not enough hours. I use 2 T-5 florescent lights on a 14 hour a day timer, and give a half strength liquid fertilizer when true leaves show, and the seedlings have all been robust and strong. A sterile germinating mix is also used.

  13. The first ripe tomato is an exciting event! Thrilling to find that greeny turning orange, then red. Better than anything from the grocery store!
    Can’t wait…

    • Yeah, I can’t wait either! My Husky Cherry Red plant is taunting me with little green cherry tomatoes now. I’m hoping they’ll be the first on my block.

      Happy growing!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

  14. I have several varieties of tomato plants growing. Due to seriously sandy soil I’ve tried using 12″ (5 gallon size) nursery pots. We have had very little rain this year so far with tremendous amounts of sunny days in the high 70s to mid 80s. New zone 8. My tomatoes have grown very tall but spindly with few leaves or branches. I have planted them as deep as I could in those large nursery pots. I water them a little bit every day because of the heat and evaporation. They wilt if I skip even a single day of watering and I’ve lost blossoms from trying it. They are sitting in full sun probably 8hrs + a day. Some say it’s lack of water that has made them grow this way, others suggest it’s too much sun. My mom’s tomato garden is under the boughs of a large Live Oak tree where they get lots of dappled sunlight all day long and though hers are smaller than mine, they look a lot healthier. She uses a granulated time release vegetable plant food where I use the Bonnie liquid herb and vegetable plant food.

    • Hi Pat,

      Congrats on trying for those early tomatoes! For growing tomatoes in containers, we suggest you use at least an 18-inch container (for determinate varieties), preferably 24-inch (for indeterminate varieties). See more in the article What Size Pot? A larger container will hold water better and will give the plant enough room to develop a strong root system. As you may have read in our Growing Tomatoes section, tomatoes like at least 8 hours of sun daily. If you expect a problem with heat as the temperature rises, you might try one of our heat-tolerant tomato varieties.

      Happy growing!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

      • Kelly’s last remark in response to Pat isn’t going to help with the problem now, this growing season. Should Pat be moving her plants into some dappled shade +/or watering more, for a good harvest this yr? If in shade, perhaps same am’t of watering as already doing, may suffice. Remove (pinch out) new growth between branches + main stock? Remove btm 2/3 of leaves, after blossoms appear? Worth a try, on one or more of yr plants.

  15. Purchased eight heirloom tomato plants. The Pink Brandywine is about 14 inches tall and has a cluster of eight blosooms on the top. Should I pinch some of the blosooms?Thank you

    • Hi Elise,

      Your question has a two-sided answer: it’s not necessary to pinch the blossoms, but you can if you’d like. If your plant appears to have a fairly strong root system already, you should be fine leaving the blossoms. However, if you think the plant might need to put extra energy into root development for a week or two, you can pinch off blooms to help promote that root growth.

      Happy growing!
      Kelly, Bonnie Plants

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