If you’ve got your seeds in the dirt now, you should see them start to sprout in 1-2 weeks. Make sure to keep the soil wet and warm during this time of waiting, but you do not need to keep the un-germinated pots in a sunny location until the plants sprout. We’re going to jump ahead a bit today so you’re well-prepared for what to do once your seedlings emerge.
Once the seeds have sprouted, they will need to get at least 12 hours of sunlight per day. If you’ve got a south-facing window in your house or apartment, you are set! Feel free to stop reading and skip down to the Water section.
If you don’t have a window that gets an appropriate amount of sunlight, you’ve got a couple options. The first is if you have windows that get variable amounts of light during the day, you can move your seedlings around to “follow the sun” throughout the day. This is the cheapest option but definitely requires quite a bit of effort. If you’re home all day anyway, or maybe need to give your kids a science project to work on, this could be a good option! If it sounds like too much to remember though, you should probably get a grow lamp.
There are a lot of options for grow lights that can work for whatever setup and/or budget you have – you can just replace the bulb in a normal lamp with a UV bulb, for example, or get something that is more of an all-in-one mini greenhouse. Early’s has a really great selection. If Dutch Growers is your garden centre of choice, they also have grow lights, though a more limited selection than Early’s. (I will also mention that I did an online order at Early’s this past week including curbside pickup in the parking lot – it was super easy!)
If you are going to use a grow light, I would highly recommend attaching it to a timer. This way you don’t have to remember to turn it on and off every day, and you ensure that the hours of light your plants get are consistent every day.
Last year I received some very LEGGY seedlings in mid-May from my horticulturist friend (like, 2 feet tall and a month away from planting weather). The fluorescent grow light I had purchased at Early’s a few years earlier had burned out, so she recommended I buy this chonky boy from Amazon. I assumed it would be light and energy-efficient, because LED, but it was quite the surprise when I received it. Folks, this is a heavy, cannabis-strength grow light. It requires PPE in the form of sunglasses if you go near it while in operation. Because I needed to keep my plants in a bathtub due to their immense size, this lamp worked great to fill the entire room with light (and also generated a decent amount of heat), but it might be overkill if you just have 2 or 3 lil baby seedlings.
Note: If you are using natural sunlight, a few cloudy days will not hurt the seedlings. It gets cloudy in the summer too, so don’t be too concerned if they miss a day of bright light.
I did talk about water quite a bit in my last post, because it’s the one thing you have to get right immediately after planting your seeds in order to make them grow. I’ll reiterate again to keep the soil wet but not waterlogged at all times.
One thing you have to keep in mind, if you are going to set yourself even an informal watering schedule, is that as the plants get bigger they will use water faster. This seems intuitive, but I screwed this up royally in my third or fourth year of growing tomatoes. I went on vacation and left my seedlings (and cat) with a house sitter, and prior to the vacation I’d only needed to water every 2-3 days because they were so little. However they went through a growth spurt around the time I left, and so the 2-3 day instructions I’d given the sitter were inadequate and almost all of the seedlings dried up and died by the time I got home.
In general, just be prepared to check your seedlings every day and if the top layer of soil looks dry, give them a drink.
I think I’m close to done with the Getting Started series of posts. I have one more planned, which will be a list of other tomato growing resources you can check out for more information. Following that, I plan to move into a series called While We Wait – these will discuss garden planning, companion plants to consider, supplies that will be helpful to start collecting now, and any other miscellaneous topics we can talk about while we wait to transplant our seedlings into their summer homes!