When do you start planting tomatoes indoors?

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I just can't seem to get it right. Some years I plant them too early; and they end up root bound and weak. Other years I plant them too late; and I don't get many red tomatoes before it gets too cold. I'm in PA which is USDA Zone 5b. I know people say to start them however many weeks before the last frost, but up here in PA it's hard to tell when the last frost will be.
 
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I just can't seem to get it right. Some years I plant them too early; and they end up root bound and weak. Other years I plant them too late; and I don't get many red tomatoes before it gets too cold. I'm in PA which is USDA Zone 5b. I know people say to start them however many weeks before the last frost, but up here in PA it's hard to tell when the last frost will be.
IF, IF you can give them plenty of sunlight, keep them warm and do not mind re-potting them, now is a great time. Something else to consider are the varieties. Some are early, some mid season and others are late season. Theoretically the larger the tomato the later in the season it will get red or pink or whatever. But by planting seeds now you will be able to produce the larger later varieties earlier. There is a secret to this though. Once the tomato plants start to really grow fast, do not let them slow down. Keep them fed and moist but on the dry side of moist. By planting the seeds now, by the time it is safe to put them in the ground the plants will more than likely show signs of making buds but remember that without sufficient light they will get leggy, which isn't all that bad considering you can plant them deep.
 
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Here in Britain we make the decision on growing tomatoes from daylight hours. It is usual for us to start them around the beginning of March when daylight has improved and reduces the chances of them growing leggy. At that time we have about eleven hours of light a day.
 
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Funny you should ask, Mika! I spent this morning planting tomato seeds, among others, and putting the starting tray on a heat mat under a dome. We usually put our tomatoes in the ground in early March when they are safe from frost.
I don't worry about the "last frost" date since here, like where you are, the last frost date is debatable. I just wait until I feel fairly confident the young plants will be safe.
Have you considered planting an early tomato variety, and also a longer season one?
 
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I just can't seem to get it right. Some years I plant them too early; and they end up root bound and weak. Other years I plant them too late; and I don't get many red tomatoes before it gets too cold. I'm in PA which is USDA Zone 5b. I know people say to start them however many weeks before the last frost, but up here in PA it's hard to tell when the last frost will be.

My zone is the same as yours. Usually I plant at the end of February for planting out the last week of May. Some years the plants get quite large depending upon the weather, since I use my greenhouse on the deck. I usually have about 30 plants. The dark ones being my favorite.
 
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Here in Britain we make the decision on growing tomatoes from daylight hours. It is usual for us to start them around the beginning of March when daylight has improved and reduces the chances of them growing leggy. At that time we have about eleven hours of light a day.
Here it isn't daylight hours it is temperature that is the deciding factor. One thing I have trouble getting my head around is a climate with temps in zones 7 or 8 or 9 , yet you have to wait until the sun reallly starts to shine brightly. When I was doing commercial hydroponics many years ago we could grow tomatoes in the winter under low light conditions using light reflectors, (tinfoil) although this was in the Houston area and a lot different from the UK. But I still can't see why one couldn't grow seedlings. I guess I would just have to be there and see.

Leggy tomatos.............unless they are topless what difference does it make if they are tall? Don't you plant your tomato plants almost up to the first set of true leaves anyway? I know there have been discussions about planting leggy tomatoes on their sides or at an angle or extra deep, supposedly allowing for more root growth. I have done it all and as far as I have observed in more than 60 years of gardening, that there is not that much difference in ROOT growth between a short stocky plant and a tall leggy plant, even applying mycorrizae to both. Most of the difference being that a leggy plant is more prone to wind damage and when the plant grows taller it may need staking in the case of determinates but the plant will still grow out of the tall skinny stage. Otherwise you will stake inderminates anyway. I am not trying to argumentative but I just can't see why. Perhaps living in South Texas clouds my thinking
 
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knowing when to start your seeds can be a crap shoot just because "lets say april 15th is the last day frost" does not mean the soil is ready temperature wise.
couple years ago the days were nice , but the night stayed in the 50's had to keep them in the greenhouse for a extra 2 weeks while in there they got a little leggy and started to fruit.

as for planting i just use a posthole digger and go down about 8" once they are planted will put in a 12" sturdy stake and tie them... their stems are not ready for any wind. like caging everyone
after putting the cases in will drive 2 pieces of re bar on opposite sides and tie them together even with high winds they stay up right...

so yes they might get a little root bound waiting in the greenhouse ,but once in the ground they will take off...
 
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Tomatoes is the one thing I don't start from seeds. I don't know why, but I never have any luck when I start them as seeds either. I always buy them from a farmer that uses non gmo seeds. I am getting really anxious for gardening season to start!
 
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Dash, like you I purchase tomato starts. We put in so many plants that I simply don't have room to start them all here at home. There is a very standard canning/eating variety called Celebrity that I buy since they are easily available and they do very well for us. I start the Romas, cherry tomatoes, and Perons at home, since I can't find them easily at nurseries or big box stores.
 
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I sowed a few maskotka seeds on Boxing Day, and I now have two seedlings growing in their own pots on our (unheated) South-facing bedroom window sill.
Maskotka are a determinate tomato, and I'm hoping they won't get too leggy before I put them in the greenhouse in March, when it will be kept frost-free.
These tomatoes won't be economical in terms of either labour or other costs, but our shop-bought tomatoes are just so poor that, if I could tease out a few cherry tomatoes from the start of the salad season in May, it'll be worthwhile.
To me a salad MEANS tomatoes!
 
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I sowed a few maskotka seeds on Boxing Day, and I now have two seedlings growing in their own pots on our (unheated) South-facing bedroom window sill.
Maskotka are a determinate tomato, and I'm hoping they won't get too leggy before I put them in the greenhouse in March, when it will be kept frost-free.
These tomatoes won't be economical in terms of either labour or other costs, but our shop-bought tomatoes are just so poor that, if I could tease out a few cherry tomatoes from the start of the salad season in May, it'll be worthwhile.
To me a salad MEANS tomatoes!
I got tired of eating my canned tomatoes so while I was at the grocery store a couple of days ago they had some beautiful looking tomatoes. I know better but I just had to have a fresh tomato. My lettuce is a harvestable size so my mouth was drooling for a good salad. WRONG. The thing was like eating wet tough cardboard with a taste like grass. IMO these growers should be taken out and hung and the store owners horse whipped. I thought seriously about taking them back and throwing them at the produce manager but then I would have been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon
 
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I got tired of eating my canned tomatoes so while I was at the grocery store a couple of days ago they had some beautiful looking tomatoes. I know better but I just had to have a fresh tomato. My lettuce is a harvestable size so my mouth was drooling for a good salad. WRONG. The thing was like eating wet tough cardboard with a taste like grass. IMO these growers should be taken out and hung and the store owners horse whipped. I thought seriously about taking them back and throwing them at the produce manager but then I would have been arrested for assault with a deadly weapon
Harsh...but fair.
 
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Here it isn't daylight hours it is temperature that is the deciding factor. One thing I have trouble getting my head around is a climate with temps in zones 7 or 8 or 9 , yet you have to wait until the sun reallly starts to shine brightly. When I was doing commercial hydroponics many years ago we could grow tomatoes in the winter under low light conditions using light reflectors, (tinfoil) although this was in the Houston area and a lot different from the UK. But I still can't see why one couldn't grow seedlings. I guess I would just have to be there and see.

Leggy tomatos.............unless they are topless what difference does it make if they are tall? Don't you plant your tomato plants almost up to the first set of true leaves anyway? I know there have been discussions about planting leggy tomatoes on their sides or at an angle or extra deep, supposedly allowing for more root growth. I have done it all and as far as I have observed in more than 60 years of gardening, that there is not that much difference in ROOT growth between a short stocky plant and a tall leggy plant, even applying mycorrizae to both. Most of the difference being that a leggy plant is more prone to wind damage and when the plant grows taller it may need staking in the case of determinates but the plant will still grow out of the tall skinny stage. Otherwise you will stake inderminates anyway. I am not trying to argumentative but I just can't see why. Perhaps living in South Texas clouds my thinking

As you can see I'm in zone 9 but the weather here is pretty much the same all year round and summer temperature rarely gets above 23C/73F, winter temperature rarely below 3C/37F. Temperatures on mainland Britain differ slightly to my own, we must remember my small island is warmed by the surrounding sea. There's also the fact I live in the north west of the country which alters daylight hours. Starting tomatoes from seed before early March means they will definitely be leggy unless grown under lights. Although daylight hours improve in length the weather patterns remain pretty constant (although we do get more sun in the summer) which cuts down the light necessary for the plants to grow well. This autumn/winter has been particularly bad with no more than approximatel twenty four hours of sunshine since the beginning of November, very depressing and not set to improve anytime soon.

The British tend to grow indeterminate tomatoes and keep them uniform by pinching out (stopping) the main stem at the preferred height, We also take out sideshoots so that the plant concentrates on growing fruit rather than growing more stems. If the plants are leggy then there will be fewer branches by the time they are stopped, therefore less fruit. Our growing season is also shorter with less heat so there is no point in growing larger plants as the top will not be producing fruit by the end of our season.

I grow my tomatoes in a cold greenhouse after starting the seeds off in an electric propagator and growing them on indoors until April when they are ready to be moved outside. Even here there is a risk of frost before the middle of May. I grow all my tomatoes in the greenhouse as they are not successful outside in the climate/weather conditions here. I grow them in buckets in compost because my soil is sandy and contains very few nutrients. I 'stop' the plants at approximately 5ft and they are staked with canes. Most plants will be fruiting and ready to pick around mid to late July with the season finishing usually around late September. At the start of September the light and heat is reducing so I strip the plants of their leaves to help remaining fruit ripen.

The green tomatoes here are Manx Marvels, red when ripe.
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These tomatoes are Golden Pearl, orange when ripe and slightly bigger than a cherry tomato
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Golden Pearl, very sweet when ripe.
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Manx Marvels with leaves stripped below. The fruit varies in size as it is a vintage tomato that was grown for the first time in 1948/49 It's a rare tomato that was brought back from extinction by a scientist here in Britain after finding the seeds in an American seed bank. After growing and producing further seed he returned them to the islands people to propagate. There are now growers around Britain too.
024 Manx Marvel (2).JPG
 
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The upper east coast is more or less about the same latitude as you, and yet temps are still the main factor. I guess the gulf stream, even though not that far away, makes all the difference in sunlight. It's hard to fathom when you haven't been there.
 
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I planted my very first tomato in spring, but I'm sure I did something wrong, because it didn't bear any fruit. I think it wasn't getting enough sunlight. Back then, we were living in a really dark apartment.

Chuck, I bought a few fresh tomatoes yesterday, and they tasted absolutely awful too:(
 

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