Picture of Grow Tomatoes from Seed
I have been a tomato grower since 2008 when I grew my first tomatoes from seed.

Growing tomatoes from seed takes time and care, but ultimately it is not hard and the results are well worth it.

You will need either a grow light setup (cheap shop lights) or a south-facing window that gets plenty of sun (if you live in the southern hemisphere, you will need a north-facing window).

Use this instructable as a guide to growing your own tomatoes from seed.

UPDATE: Check out my new Web site on growing tomatoes. Grow Your Tomatoes
Remove these adsRemove these ads by Signing Up

Step 1: Get the seeds

Picture of Get the seeds
First, you need to get your seeds from a good source. I prefer online seed stores that accept PayPal, but this is just my personal preference. You can find tomato seeds in the garden center at places like Wal-Mart and Lowes. I buy mine from, who sells only heirloom seeds.

Research the seed company you are buying from to make sure they are reputable and that you will get good seeds from them.

I'm an heirloom grower, but you can choose to grow either heirlooms, hybrids, or some of each.

Step 2: When to plant the seeds

Tomatoes are typically sown 6 to 8 weeks before the last anticipated frost. Some say to sow them later, more like 5 weeks before the last frost, but either will work. Keep in mind that the earlier you start, the larger the plants will be when you plant them out.

To find your average last frost date, go to

I live in Middle Tennessee and start my seeds in mid- to late-February.
Ronyon4 years ago
I also like the trenching.Our raised bed was filled with tomatoes plants, with vines growing willy-nilly, but not producing much on each vine.
Next season,I will bury those runners, cleaning up my grow space and hopefully boosting yield.
I am checking out your web site as well.
Tomatoes do not vine.

Hang a nylon web from the garden center next to the growing tomato plant. The Nylon webs are usually about 5' wide by 15' long.
As the plant grows, gently poke the tip in and out of the net weaving. Train the side branches out along the web. Remove suckers.

By training your tomato plant to grow on the web, the weight will be borne by the nylon.

Be sure the webbing is supported by a strong system. I use galvanized water pipes. Electrical conduit will also work.

My later father "salvaged" some steel reinforcing concrete rebar grids from a construction site. He rolled the grids into cylinders about 2 or 3 feet across then placed them around his tomato plants. As the plants grew, the side branches poked through the rebar grid and supported the plants.

Most home improvement centers have 4 x 8 foot steel rebar grids you can purchase. These are MUCH stronger and longer lasting than those thin wire cones for tomatoes that the same store's garden center has.

davee52uk6 years ago
...and when you have got some tomatoes, leave one or two to get over ripe. Then cut them open and scrape out the seeds onto some tissue paper. Leave to dry and you have seeds for the next year.
catman529 (author)  davee52uk6 years ago
Yes, I should have mentioned that. Thanks for bringing it up. They don't necessarily need to be overripe, just at least fully ripe, when you might normally eat them. The preferred way of saving seeds is to scoop the seeds and gel into a container, and add some water so it doesn't dry out. Put it in an out-of-the-way area where mold can grow and the seeds can ferment. This removes the gel which is a natural germination inhibitor. When there is a good layer of mold on the surface of the seed/juice mixture, scrape it off and strain the seeds, rinse them and let them dry completely before storing them in an airtight container.
That could almost be another Instructable on its own....
catman529 (author)  katuah5 years ago
Yeah good I might just go and do that one sometime.
Please do. its my first year growing tomatoes in my back yard and i am still a rookie (green as my tomatoes) and i would love to know how to save seeds.

To save seeds, when I am eating a tomato, I simply put some onto a bit of paper napkin. Then I mark the date and where the tomato came from, type, size, etc. After the paper napkin has set aside for a day or two everything is dry. I then fold the napkin and stick it into a place where I save seeds such as a clean peanut butter jar.

Another good way to organize seeds is to buy small plastic zip bags from a hobby or craft store. They cost about one penny each.

I don't worry about allowing any mold to grow or wash the seeds, I just do as described above and have a nearly 100% germination rate.

One thing that is important is to save your seeds every year from the best looking, healthiest and best tasting tomatoes. That way over the years you will be getting seeds that are optimized for your garden soil and light conditions.

Caution: do NOT plant tomatoes in the same spot year after year. This is because you will encourage little creatures that feast on the roots called nematodes. Keep track of what is planted where and use a three or four year rotation.

Tip: when your seedlings are tall and the ground is warm plant them as deep into the ground as possible. Trim off any side branches allowing only a few leaves to stick above the ground on about 2 inches of stem. This will do two things:
1. the two inches of bare stem will allow air to circulate.
2. the stem that is deeply planted in the soil will sprout roots giving moisture and nutrients to the growing plant. Being so deep, the heat of the summer will not bother the plant at all. Plants that are shallow planted can easily dry out because tomatoes do not send down a tap root.

Some of my deeply planted tomatoes have grown to the top of the garage and onto the roof by the time frost hits. So I know deep planting works quite well.

Also. Does anybody know what is the ideal soil moisture level for tomatoes? i made a Arduino controlled watering system that monitors soil moisture levels and adds water to keep the soil at the same level day after day. Its based off of the Garduino instructable. I'm just worried that i might be over watering or under watering.
catman529 (author)  winterfresh5 years ago
They say tomatoes need the equivalent of at least 1 inch of rain per week...not sure how that would work out with your Arduino system. Of course you don't want it to overwater either.
Thanks, I am going to add a LCD to my Arduino and a potentiometer so I can adjust the water level on the fly. Trial and error... Not the best but...
catman529 (author)  winterfresh5 years ago
Before I make an instructable on seed saving, check out my web page because I already have detailed instructions available...
I did not have to wait. I took them right dry for 30seconds and planted and it's as big the plant On step8.
hcold davee52uk6 years ago
One assumes you also choose the biggest and best tasting ones for thing. You know, artificial selection and all that.
catman529 (author)  hcold6 years ago
Yes, it's recommended to choose the best fruit from the best plant for seeds with good genes. No guarantee that the plants they produce will be as good as their parent, but at least they have the genes for it so you have better chances of better plants.
Why not the paper ones?  Curious... leaching chemical nasties or...

Paper egg containers will hold water when you water plants, and get pretty nasty after a while, while the styrofoam ones are non-porous. I poke holes in the bottom of the styrofoam ones so they drain better, then water about once a day, depending on how quickly your soil dries out. Seeds need a lot of water to start, so paper egg cartons end up soggy.

catman529 (author)  iminthebathroom4 years ago
This year I used one 30-egg paper carton, but to avoid soaking the paper when watering, I painted it with hot wax which soaked into the paper and cooled to make it waterproof. When paper egg cartons get soaked with water, the paper softens and roots can grow through the paper, which can cause damage (planting the whole paper cup in a new pot does not make it decompose fast enough for root growth). Also, water soaking through the paper gives it more than twice as much surface area to allow for evaporation, which means you'd have to water a heck of a lot more often. I don't think there is enough outgassing of the plastic to make it a concern; after all, your plants will only be potted for a few weeks before going into the ground.
To not waste containers and space while experimenting with a stack of old seed packets (1990's on), as well as expectations of meager sun and heat in the NW, I used the 24-egg Styrofoam carton, placed in the oven with a CFL in place of the oven light...and it made a useful amount of germination heat, keeping the temperature in the 80's. It is also handy to write the data on the while lid and borders (and as well the lid can add reflective light, +/- foil to the oven surfaces). Then a spoon can simply make the transplantation hole in the new soil and then scoop out the hatch-lings from the egg carton to then fit the spoon-made new hole. Nicely, all 24 spaces had germination: basil varieties, pepper varieties, Korean radish and twisty peppers, various tomatoes esp heirlooms.. Of course for bigger seeds, not so useful...still stick the mango in a cup of water..attractive for the kitchen window sill...
jamesrdell1 year ago
I just dropped some seeds on the ground and wa-la sprouts in a few days
kpeoples831 year ago
this an excellent instructable! my tomato plants are growing well as you have shown in the pics at each step
kpeoples831 year ago
this an excellent instructable! my tomato plants are growing well as you have shown in the pics at each step
primeline312 years ago
What about drainage? I make drain holes in these plastic cups with a soldering iron. Otherwise, the roots can rot if you accidentally water too much (which is very easy to do.)
Did you use grow lights and if you grow them inside do you need the lights on them the hole time there alive.I'm growing them inside droning winter.
Also, there's a hormone that plants have (and that we have artificially made in a lab) that stimulates root growth and production, so there's plenty of things to consider in the body chemistry and functions of plants and stuff like that.

What's up my fellow Marine (Tufflehounde).

No, do not keep the light on all the time, you can, but it's best to give plants a night, and a day, just like us humans and other living things.

It has to do with hormones. We heal better when we sleep at night, and our hormones are better rugulated.

Plants have a bunch of different hormones like humans and animals do. At night plants are also in their repair and rebuild mode like we are when we sleep.

I can get all technical with which hormones do what for us and for plants, but I won't.

basically they will have a larger growth hormone stimuli, and they with breath in alot more CO2 when the plants are having their 'Night Time'. Oohrah? Kill? Or Heal I should say. ;)))
hi i was growing cherry tomato seeds, and once they germinated there were no true leaves, just seed leaves. No leaf bud either. How to make the plant grow again?
Give it more.time. Or plant more
My tomatoes look the same as yours!
abhishek7274 years ago
Can't we use the seeds from the tomato itself? Are there any disadvantages to this particular approach? It just feels a bit weird to me to go and buy the seeds when we already have the tomato. Maybe the hybrid varieties you guys are talking about are seedless but...
I was just thinking the same thing. I don't see why not. As a child I used to let lemon and grapefruit seeds germinate and they came right from the lemon. If you want a special type of tomatoe then you kneed to buy the seeds if you have not been able to get the vegetable or fruit that you want to plant. Also I think that "bought" seeds are treated with a substance that helps them grow roots faster ..
I don't know of any seed suppliers in my area so plan to use seeds from the actual fruit itself. I usually throw seeds of fruits I've eaten into a flower pot and some do germinate however they usually just die off once the seedling has used up the seed. any idea how I can get the seeds (any) to start growing into a full plant?
Many times, especially with plants that reproduce sexually (as most do), the seeds that are retrieved from the fruits are not as good as the seeds from a supplier. The seeds from the supplier are grown specifically for harvesting the seeds to produce fruit-bearing plants. Seeds from the fruit may have a different mix of parentage from the seeds used to grow the plant.
ManyuX954 years ago
Oh man, :) I love how they look so hairy xD
CraTyr4 years ago
Will this technique also work for peppers? I know they are totally different plants, but if it worked it would make a nice healthier seedling.
I dont have any shop light but I do have some old lamps. I need to know if a compact flourescent light buld (CFL) would do.

Dr.Bill5 years ago
You Live The Tomatoe Electric !

I too am a tomatoe grower and have been for about 40 years.
I was forced into it when I was young. Boy am I glad.

I have grown tomatoes well into winter, indoors. (cherrys)
I make the best  Spaghetti Gravey, its to die for.
But you! You have all kinds of other recepies and for that I thank you.
Well Done.
Whales5 years ago
O_O Middle Tennessee? thats weird so do I, I start my tomatos in April or MAy... but they are usually from little plants, I tried seeds this year, and I did it in March(late i know) but my whole garden flopped this year, so next year I'm going with just pots.
awang85 years ago
Nice tutorial! I grow beefsteak tomatoes (which beefsteak I have no idea) which are BIG! Just onethink slice is enough to cover an entire sandwich! I buy all my vegetable seeds from Eden Seeds ( only sells organic seeds. All hybrids are determinate which means despite being a hybrid, it will still grow true to type. I made a kind of climbing frame thing out of chickenwire supported on 2 metal stakes. I use this to grow all my climbing vegetables. Other than that, I think you should mention that cardboard egg cartons are just as good (and are biodegradable) and you should actually start the seeds outside, with full sunlight so you don't need to worry about hardening them off.
catman529 (author)  awang85 years ago
Thanks for the input.

Let me say that all hybrids are not deterimate; many if not most of them are indeterminate. Look at Sungold, for example, a hybrid that supposedly produced 65ft indeterminate vines.

Also, cardboard egg cartons can be a pain to use because the roots may actually grow through the paper, but when planted in a bigger pot, the paper will not biodegrade fast enough to let the roots continue to grow underground. Thus, you would have to remove the seedlings from the cardboard trays, and tear a lot of roots in the process. Otherwise, your seedlings would get terribly root-bound and stunt the plant.

I would not start seeds outdoors without a heated greenhouse because I start them in mid-winter when temps are way too cold for tomatoes. Hardening off isn't a problem for me; it takes 1 to 2 weeks and then the plants are ready for the real world.
I disagree with your second paragraph. The tomatoes I have grown are strong enough to rip apart the soggy cardboard when the roots are nearly rootbound, but not rootbound enough to make the plants unhealthy. Also, for your third paragraph, I think it really depends on your area and climate.
catman529 (author)  awang85 years ago
I think the roots' ability to penetrate paper cartons depends on growing conditions, variety, health of plant, etc. It seems like the roots get stuck often enough to say it's usually not a good idea to use egg cartons. But there are always exceptions to that. As for my third paragraph, of course it depends on where you live. People in Florida can even get two growing seasons in a year.
Cardboard egg containers do not always degrade. It depends on the zone you're in. I lived in Alaska for six years and that's the #1 gardening rule there... NO cardboard egg containers.
blueyes485 years ago
Each year, we just throw our seeds ( from the tomatoes the ones we eat and the ones we order) into a semi-prepared, mostly neglected bed starting after the first frost. At the first hint of spring they starting sprouting, and the ones that survive are very hardy. We just transplant them into the garden. This year we have 250 plants! We just let them sprawl, and always have just tons of tomatoes to eat and process! It feeds our turtle visitors also, lol.
fearless15 years ago
I notice that you tie the plant with a figure 8 to the support stake. Using a wide soft cloth as you do helps prevent the stems from breaking at the supported area. Nice help for my tomatoes to come.
hickarus5 years ago
I have grown tomatoes for several years and one year tried the "upside-down" (now marketed as the "topsy-turvy") tomatoes along with the usual in-the-ground kind. I had to build a sturdy rack to hold them up there and they grew just fine. But I won't do them again and here's why: when the sun beat on the containers the root systems got really hot and I don't think they liked that. The stalks became much more cracked and the stress of the heat just made the plants look tired! Plus, they required much more water for the same reason. I used 5-gallon buckets and filled them up with compost and soil to within an inch of the top. Of all my plants ( I had about a dozen plants in all) four of them were hanging and only those four ultimately became victims of the dreaded tomato hornworm caterpillar. They ended up with very low yield, ravaged by the horn worm and dried out stalks in the end. I think part of the reason for this was that I couldn't get in there and be seen by the critters with the buckets hanging up so high above. If it has worked for you, I'd be interested in hearing what you did different. Otherwise, I'll just keep mine in old Mother Earth. She gives them the life they need. Alternately, buckets or containers on the ground work well. In the end, good planning and foresight will get you the best results. Good luck, gardeners!
Awesome. I'll have to try this so I can put more stuff in my greenhouse.
Hasuko6 years ago
I am attempting to grow the Brandywine tomato this season, from seed. I have heard they are one of the best tasting varieties, and they are hard to find even at farmer's markets because the very thin skin doesn't allow them to be handled very much. I bought my seeds from Home Depot, but I also like Pinetree Garden Seeds (
catman529 (author)  Hasuko6 years ago
Good luck with your Brandywine tomatoes; I haven't tried this one yet because of the low yields and the fact that the short time of sun we get wouldn't help at all. The variety "Red Brandywine" you see in this picture turned out not to be the real "Red Brandywine." The real RB is not the same as Brandywine, and it has regular tomato foliage. The RB plants I am growing from the seeds shown in the picture have come ups as potato leaf plants, so they are actually an unknown variety that was mis-identified as Red Brandywine. It sounds like you are growing the original, well-known Brandywine tomato. Your plants should come up as potato leaf plants and produce larger fruit than Red Brandywine. (Note: Red Brandywine is actually not a strain of the original Brandywine; it is a completely different variety.)
LOL You'd think that if they aren't a strain of the original, that they wouldn't be allowed to call them a 'Red Brandywine' or even have Brandywine in the name! I live in the South (AL), so we get lots of sun down here. My only problem is going to be keeping the darn things watered. Hehe
catman529 (author)  Hasuko6 years ago
The name can be deceiving from a genetic point of view, but to people who just want tomatoes and don't care about all the varieties and how they are related, it's just another Brandywine to them. I'm going to have trouble calling mine "Red Brandywine" when I know that it's actually not. As far as anyone knows, the real name of this misnamed variety isn't known, if it even has one. So I could call this variety whatever I want, and I would be sure not to include "Brandywine" in the name.
AzureEyes6 years ago
i was curious to know about your preference of "heirloom" plants. I was assume these are better seeds/plants?
Heirloom plants are chosen usualy when you want to be able to use seeds from ripe tomatoes to plant the next year. Hybrid tomato varieties will sprout something other than you planted if you use the seeds off ripe tomatoes.
catman529 (author)  gumbytig6 years ago
Sometimes hybrids are stabilized when a large number of plants are grown form the hybrid seeds (these plants are F2 and most won't be the same as the original hybrid). The most accurate F2 is selected and the seeds from that plant are saved and regrown, and the selection process goes on for a few years till a stabilized variety is born and can become an "heirloom".
talty6 years ago
I learned so much from this! But I'm curious: why shouldn't we use paper cartons?
gumbytig talty6 years ago
Catman is right about the roots growing through the pot on paper cartons. I haven't found this to be a problem myself. You can loose a few roots usually and not have too much of a problem. In fact if mine get too root bound before they get to the garden (late frosts some times here in Illinois), i break up the root ball and end up loosing some roots in the process. Doesn't seem to be a problem. I usually have too many plants (even after supplying 4 other gardeners with their plants) that i can always replace what might be lost. Though that hasn't been a problem much except when the animals get to them. You can always break up a paper carton fairly easy if it's getting root bound and you don't want to loose roots. Only problem i've had with paper is that it falls apart too quick sometimes with being moist all the time.
catman529 (author)  gumbytig6 years ago
Just another thought, it could also dry out WAY faster than plastic cartons or larger seed trays. Not a problem though if you don't mind watering every day.
catman529 (author)  talty6 years ago
I've heard bad things about paper egg cartons. The roots will start to grow through the paper, so removing plants from a paper carton will damage a lot of the roots. And I've read that the paper doesn't biodegrade very fast, so the roots become rootbound and the plants suffer if you just set the cup into some potting soil. You can put some sort of lining in the paper cups to keep the roots from growing through the paper, but it's easier to use PET or EPS plastic trays.
talty catman5296 years ago
Thank you for your fast and complete answer! =) this was truly instructable. I will let you know when I plant my first tomatoes :D keep up the good work!
SinAmos6 years ago
I just made a tomato planter stand, so that the tomato vines can grow downward. I'm not a big fan of transplanting, but it makes more sense. Thanks for the sideways trick. :)
I've tried the upside down plants and as a word of caution, make sure your stand is tall enough. My plants here (upright plants in Illinois) get 6 foot tall or higher. So if you leave 6 foot for the plant and then another 2-1/5 to 3 feet for the bucket and hanger, your at 10 feet or taller to keep it off the ground. Makes for tough watering.
buirv6 years ago
I like your Instructable. I've been growing Tomatoes for a number of years. However this is the first time I've see digging a trench and laying the plant on its side and burying it like in step 7. What is the purpose of that? I'm not so sure the plant will stand back up from that. However, your pictures show the do. I'm not sure if I understand this step.
catman529 (author)  buirv6 years ago
Thanks. Trenching allows roots to develop along the buried portion of the stem. I'll go and edit the 'ible and clarify that. More roots allow more nutrients to be taken into the plant, and they say it increases yields. And yes, the plant stands up again. When you place a plant on its side, it will bend upwards after a few days.
i really like your instructable. I too have been growing tomatoes for years and never really knew about suckers. I just thought they were part of the plant. To comment on the planting tomatoes sideways, I read somewhere that tomatoes grow in the wild as a creeping plant rather than upright. so honestly your way of planting doesn't seem that far of a stretch as the natural law of growth.
Scott_Tx6 years ago
Looks good, I'm hoping to grow some tomatoes this year, I might try a few in the upside down container thing also.