If you’re growing tomato plants indoors under lights and want to keep them happy and healthy until they are ready to be transplanted into the garden, then now’s the time to start tickling those tomato seedlings.
Growing Sturdier Tomato Transplants
With frost warnings forecast for the area as recently as this past weekend, it will be at least another week or two before I’m comfortable setting tomato plants out into the garden beds. In the meantime there’s a simple trick that you can use to help prepare your tomato seedlings for the harsher conditions that they’ll encounter outdoors.
A gardener once sent an email describing what she referred to as tickling her tomato plants to toughen them up. I thought that was a perfect visual image of her process for “stimulating stronger plant growth,” which involved lightly running her fingers across the tops of the young tomato seedlings.
Weight Training for Tomato Seedlings
The purpose of tickling the tomato plants after they have developed a few true leaves is to stimulate the tomato plants to develop stronger and thicker stems that can hold up when exposed to breezes, wind, and other weather conditions that the tomato seedlings will experience when placed outdoors.
Gently roughing up the plants in this manner will provide a signal to the young tomato seedlings that things will not continue to be as easy as life on a grow cart in a still room. In response they will grow stockier and sturdier to withstand your daily jostling.
Without this toughening up the tomato transplants are likely to droop and flop over with even a brief exposure to outdoor conditions. Start the treatments at least a couple of weeks before you begin setting the plants outdoors as part of the hardening off process. It only takes a few seconds a couple of times each day to strengthen and stimulate those tomato plants.
Alternatives for Mature Tomato Growers
If you feel a tad bit silly about tickling your tomato plants here are a couple of alternatives that will accomplish the same objective. Lightly and gently run a stick across the tops of the tomato seedlings a couple of times each day.
Or set up a fan in the room where you grow your transplants to circulate mild air currents in the room. Just don’t aim the fan directly at the plants for extended periods of time and make sure that the air currents circulating throughout the room are gentle.
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