On our way to wet and muddy auction today, I saw a budding entrepreneur setting up his plants for sale. I admit, I was tempted to get a bougainvillea and probably still will, but what I saw next to them stimulated this blog.
He had tomato plants that were already leggy, in small pots and probably about 18" tall. I understand that 'terrible itch' to get going with the garden, but with tomatoes there is no real rush. I know, I've pushed the envelope too many times.
The result was that I had to baby them constantly and they never really did any better than those planted 3-4 weeks from now. Yes, I know, with ENOUGH babying, and climate control, you can get tomatoes a few weeks early.
That is OK for the experiences gardener and one who revels in the challenge, but if you are a new grower, have patience. The time will come.
Yes, I have tomatoes growing right now, but they were started from seed and are only 3-4" right now. I potted them into larger pots this weekend and may pot them up once more before they start getting 'hardened off' outside. I don't plan on planting in the garden until the last week of April or maybe even May!
When eventually choosing your tomato, I would look for stocky, dark green plants, without flowers. If they have flowers, pinch them off. They will need energy to grow healthy roots and stems. If they are trying to produce fruit, they will divert that energy from building the strong system they need to produce MANY tomatoes, later.
There are ways to work with leggy plants. but unless you can give them larger pots and excellent light right now, I would wait.
If they look stressed, or wilted, they may never handle the transplanting, or never grow as you know they should. It may not be your soil or the need to get Miracle Grow for tomatoes. They may have been abused early in life and will never meet their potential.
Look at the grower or the store from which you are buying. Do they care for all their plants or does it seem to be an afterthought. Are there other plants showing stress? If so, you can bet that yours were ignored as well. A good plant person will have a passion that shows in their product.
Sit in a comfortable chair or on a soft mat on the floor, close your eyes, envision the perfect tomato, maybe make a soft humming sound as you exhale, breathe deeply, back straight, hands and body relaxed and WAIT!