Expert Tips for Growing Early Tomato Varieties

Get juicy, ripe tomatoes a month sooner by following these proven techniques and tips for selecting and growing the best early tomato varieties and growing them in containers.

  • Early Tomato Varieties
    The ‘Whippersnapper’ tomato variety has short side branches that spread out horizontally, making it ideal for containers or hanging baskets.
    Photo by Louise Moser
  • Tomato Seedlings On Windowsill
    Tomato seedlings need plenty of light in order to grow well.
    Photo by Fotolia/Kingan
  • Forming Tomato Fruit
    A tomato’s fruit begins to form.
    Photo by Dwight Kuhn
  • Sophies Choice Tomato Variety
    ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is a great-tasting, quick-maturing tomato variety.
    Photo by Jeff H. McCormack

  • Early Tomato Varieties
  • Tomato Seedlings On Windowsill
  • Forming Tomato Fruit
  • Sophies Choice Tomato Variety

In almost any climate, the best time to start most tomato seeds is six to eight weeks before your average last spring frost. This tried-and-true schedule provides juicy tomatoes by high summer, but many gardeners and cooks become impatient for sun-ripened tomatoes earlier. You can satisfy this premature tomato craving by learning how to grow extra-early tomatoes. By choosing varieties that mature quickly, starting those seeds a month ahead of your typical schedule — 10 to 12 weeks before your last spring frost — and then giving the plants special care, you’ll harvest tomatoes at the beginning of summer, when main-crop tomatoes are only beginning to bloom.

Most tomato varieties thrive in warm soils, so plan to grow your earliest tomatoes in containers for best results. In spring, when the plants start spending time outdoors, their roots will stay warmer in containers than they would if planted in the ground. You won’t need huge vessels because the stress from slightly cramped roots will push quick-maturing tomatoes to produce flowers and fruits in less time than usual. A 3-gallon bucket or a 12-inch-diameter pot or hanging basket will be about right for each plant. Ideally, each container should have a lip or handle for easy lifting.

Extra-Early Varieties

In the garden, indeterminate varieties that produce for many weeks are usually best, but certain compact, determinate varieties will provide you with more tomatoes sooner. Choose carefully — some early determinate varieties have much better flavor than others! The following open-pollinated, determinate tomato varieties have well-deserved reputations for delivering rich, main-season tomato flavor in record time:

‘Sophie’s Choice’ is a cool-tolerant heirloom tomato from Edmonton, Alberta, that produces round, red slicers on compact, 24-inch plants. Fruit size varies from egg-sized to baseball proportions, and the flavor of ‘Sophie’s Choice’ is mildly sweet with a pleasing balance of tangy aromatics.

‘Glacier,’ a smaller, red slicer, comes from Sweden and has potato-leaf foliage and a bushy growth habit. The bulky ‘Glacier’ tomato plant grows to 30 inches tall, and needs staking to support its concentrated crop.

‘Whippersnapper’ is a pink-red cherry tomato with a quirky growth habit. Short side branches spread out horizontally, making the ‘Whippersnapper’ tomato ideal for containers or hanging baskets. In Canada, this variety has gained a following after winning a race for first ripe tomato of the season.

12/14/2014 4:27:30 PM

Hey, great article. I will be trying this method for sure. Beats waiting until mid summer to eat tomatoes from your garden. I hope it works. If it does I'll post results and upload images. Thanks

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