Starting tomato seeds in Los Angeles?

winstella(10b los angeles)January 23, 2014

I live in Los Angeles and am new to gardening and just got my first packs of tomato seeds... My main goal is to make sauce and can them for the rest of the year but also want some tomatoes to just eat fresh.

I purchased:

San Marzano
Brandy wine red and gold
Red cherry large fruited

Do you think I can start planting them now and how many of each seed should I plant? I bought a 24" wooden pot about 3 feet deep. (I have a concrete back yard so have to use container). How much tomato should I expect from 1 seed?

I also want to get some sunsugar when I find it..

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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

I bought a 24" wooden pot about 3 feet deep. (I have a concrete back yard so have to use container).

That size container is good for 1 plant only so you will need several more of them if you plan to grow all those varieties.

Tomato plants are normally started indoors in flats or small shallow containers using a seed starting mix 6-8 weeks prior to your plant out date and then transplanted when they are 6-10" tall into the container where they will grow.

In LA I am guessing that your plant out date is around the first of April and if that is correct then it is far to early to start them yet. You'll need to confirm that date with local gardeners or you might ask over on the California Gardening forum here for advice too.

Why not check out all the FAQs and info available over on the Growing from Seed forum here including the FAQ linked below for starters.

You will also want to contact your local county AG extension office for more local gardening info and tips. They are a wealth of info.

Hope this helps.


Here is a link that might be useful: FAQ - How do I grow tomatoes from seed

    Bookmark   January 23, 2014 at 11:43PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Thanks for your response Dave.

Wow, I feel like the container is so big! It took 3 costco sized bags of miracle grow to fill it. it's 24x24x36... and will only grow 1?? wow. So it will take $30 for the dirt, and $25 for the pot.... $55 for each plant??

I went to home depot today and purchased a grow light and build my own structure out of PVC to hang the lights on chains and started 2 of each seed in starting soil

it's VERY hot in LA right now.. 80 degrees most days and days don't get colder than 55 degrees.. hopefully these will be ok :) I live more inland (SGV) so its much warmer here.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 1:57AM
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I live in the SGV area and I use April 1 as my
plant out date target.

That's using 4" pot plants from a nursery.

And yes, one plant only in that pot. They get big.

Last year my plants grew out of the top of my cages
which are 6 feet tall and back down to the ground for
a total length of around 12 feet.

    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 2:39AM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Wow, I feel like the container is so big! It took 3 costco sized bags of miracle grow to fill it. it's 24x24x36... and will only grow 1??

Apparently you don't have a clear picture of how big the tomato plants will be. :) You haven't picked any "container" varieties. San Marzano and the Brandywines will easily be 4' wide and 8-10' tall each. You might squeeze 2 Roma plants in it but it will be over-crowded as they tend to be somewhat smaller plants.

You can use some of the soil in it to start all the seeds but only if you put it into a shallower container to do it. You can't start the seeds in such a big container. It holds tooh water for seedlings and they will drown. It would be like putting a baby into an olympic sized swimming pool.

Your best bet for success until you learn what you are doing is to buy two container-type tomato plants and learn what is needed to grow them in that container.

Container gardening is a very different animal from normal gardening and it has its own set of methods - and yes it can be an expensive endeavor up-front. Do some reading over on the Container Gardening forum here for lots of tips.


    Bookmark   January 25, 2014 at 10:38AM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

it's 24x24x36... and will only grow 1??


in my oinion you can grow TWO in that container. BUT the thing is that 24" DEPTH is going to waste a lot of soil. 14" should be enough.

A lot of people grow tomatoes in 5 gal. buckets. Although slightly bigger pot/ grow bags would be better for indet varieties( ~ 8gal)


    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 12:51AM
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I live in the San Fernando Valley and start my tomato seeds in February. Last year I grew each tomato in 15 gallon grow bags and a few in raised beds. They get pretty big :)

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 1:29PM
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Agree with Seysonn about 2 and I'd even take it a step further and fill all but the top 12" with rough,then finer (pea size) stone.
IMO you have chosen a container that is much deeper than needed. Square foot bags made of landscape fabric and filled with media would suffice to lay on the concrete. Just cut a hole in the side facing up, plant 1 tomato and provide a drip water line and SUPPORT. You'll benefit from overhead support no matter what you plant into.
Your $30 worth of media should be adequate for 15 or more plants which can liven up you concrete jungle.

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 4:39PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Haha wow. I should have specified: it's 2ft by 2ft and 36 inches DEEP! I guess I wasted a lot of soil... This pot was recommended by the San Gabriel nursery where I got it from. They seem to give me a lot of bad advice.

I took it upon myself to build my own wooden container today, 4feetx2feet and 18 inches deep. However, I am using it for vegetables. I think I'll just build my own containers for the tomatoes as well. What size do you think is best?

By the way, I'm a small girl who has never done gardening OR woodwork before. These are both new ventures for me. I couldn't find a container in the size I wanted and even if I did, I'm not sure how I would get it home so I decided to make my own today.

Very proud of myself so I must share lol!

This post was edited by winstella on Sun, Jan 26, 14 at 19:55

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 7:45PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Transferee some of my existing plants

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 7:46PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Growlight device

    Bookmark   January 26, 2014 at 7:47PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

I should have specified: it's 2ft by 2ft and 36 inches DEEP!

NO> What you have said previously seems to me correct. By DEEP It is meant height in this case.

That box looks like 2ft wide, 3 ft long and 2 ft (maybe less than that) deep(tall).

You can just remove the top row of the wood and a little more of the soil. Then you will end up wit 16" height. Leave several inches unfilled. IOW, fill it to about 14" .

They look nice. you should be proud of yourself You could put 2" by 2" in the corners , inside to make it real sturdy.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 2:31AM
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Tomato plant roots can grow three feet laterally and as
much (or more) downwards.

That pot should be used for only one plant. And leave it
filled with dirt!

The hot, dry weather in the SGV can cause a pot to
dry out very quickly. You need as much soil as possible
to avoid drying out quickly.

I've grown tomatoes in the SGV for 30+ years now, both
in containers and in the ground. When growing in pots,
I have had them dry out in 24 hours. I would water the
plants heavily every morning and fill the saucers below
them completely. They'd be dry by evening.

I'd suggest a 2' X 2' X 2' container as the minimum size
for your tomatoes.

If you're disillusioned by the San Gabriel Nursery, may
I suggest Burkhard Nursery in Pasadena. Frank, the
owner, is extremely knowledgeable and a great guy.
He'll give you the right information. They have the
largest selection of tomato plants I've ever seen. I
get my plants from him every year.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 3:26PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Thanks for the info qaguy! I will def check them out... although, have you been there recently? Their reviews seem to have dropped significantly. I went to another nursery in Pasadena which was fantastic, one of the owners was very knowledgable... I just usually go to SGV for the sake of convenience but may stop all together.

I will leave my larger plants in the 36ft deep container, probably the san marzano or one of the brandywines (which sprouted today btw!)... and then build 2x2 for the others, but I also want to test out a roma in a 5 gallon pot.

I'm well aware of the weather in SGV and plan on installing a drip irrigation system for my plants because I'm not looking forward to going out every day to water plants in almost 110 degree weather haha.

Question though: how much water should I have it run for a 2x2x2 sized pot filled with potting mix? Need to go to the store soon to pick up supplies soon. How about for my 4x2x1.5ft container?

Thank you!!

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 5:18PM
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I posted this last year and it still holds true.

It's hard to make a schedule for watering. You have to
adjust depending on the local conditions and soil type.
Your goal should be consistent moisture at the root zone.

How you achieve that is the problem. One week might
be sunny, windy and dry and the next week overcast and no wind.

Check your soil and make the necessary adjustments to
keep it moist.

I'm in CA with caliche soil (heavily amended) Caliche will
turn into a brick in a day or two. I'm constantly checking
the soil and watering as needed.

digdirt posted this a couple of years still holds true.

The goal is consistent and stable soil moisture levels throughout the season and despite the weather. That doesn't come from any "schedule". What "schedule" may work for one person would kill another person's plants and vice versa.

So you have to learn what YOUR soil and YOUR plants need. That means using your hands to determine what slightly moist soil feels like down near the roots and learning to keep it that way all the time whatever the weather.

That may mean watering once a day or once a week. Unless you have a very shallow bed of less than 8" then every other day is likely way too often but 30 mins with a soaker hose is not much water at all. The average soaker hose delivers less than 1/4 gallon per hour so time yours. Learn how long it actually takes to deliver 1 gallon of water by burying a tuna can or similar 1 1/2" deep can in the soil so that the top rim sits at soil level and run the hose over it. Run the hose until the can is full and note how long it takes. A crude but effective method. Once you know the time needed then do that 1x a week, maybe 2x a week if really hot and dry and see how your plants respond.

Do you heavily mulch your plants? If not, do so. What type of soil do you have? Sandy? Clay? High organic levels or not? How close are your plants planted? Are all parts of the bed getting equal amounts of water? What time of day do you water? This is only some of the variables involved.

The main point is to learn to be flexible. Forget schedules and learn to water when the plants need it instead.

And be sure to mulch. I use grass clippings myself, but there's other options out there.

    Bookmark   January 27, 2014 at 7:11PM
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seysonn(8a WA/HZ 1)

Ok. It is your money , choice and decision. But let me throw in some figures;

A lot of people grow tomatoes in containers ranging from 5 gal to 12 gal. I will take the average 9 gallons.

A 2' by 2' by 3' box has a volume of almost 90 gallons. That is enough soil needed for 10 tomato plants. Even if you fill it 75%, still there will be 67 gallons of soil, more than enough for 7 tomato plants.

If you take the most generous figure 12 gal/plant and the box filled only 75% full, even then it will have more than enough for 5 tomato plant.
Somebody suggested ONE plant. I am pretty sure that single tomato is going to do real well in there. you will need to spend $50 dollars on potting mix , plus fertilizer plus the cost of lumber. How much tomato you expect to harvest off of that plant ?


    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 1:29AM
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yukkuri_kame(Sunset 19 / USDA 9)

Seysonn, yes, I agree on your planting density suggestions.

The cost analysis should account for the container and potting mix over the course of two or more seasons.

Fertlization & water are recurring costs, but long-term fertility can be maintained with a good compost pile, free coffee grounds & diluted human urine.

Square foot gardening estimates 9 pounds per sq foot. I haven't done much with tomatoes in containers, what do you think of that number?

At $3/pound for organic tomatoes, the return is not bad even with high input costs. Let's say 6 plants, at a moderate yield of 5 pounds each, that's 30 pounds or $90 in tomatoes at grocery store prices. A high yield of 10 pounds is $180 in one season.

And then there's the taste difference!

Let's not discuss time & opportunity cost invested!!!

    Bookmark   January 28, 2014 at 9:19AM
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I plant tomatoes late in the year - August or September - and they grow slowly, but if you look at the link below, you will see how they look in January. Cherry tomatoes will produce for many, many months, as long as you do not have frost. I can see the San Gabriel Mountains from my yard, and I have seen snow on them in past years, but the valley must be much warmer.

I also think you will get more help from the California gardening forum - there are a lot of helpful people there who understand our climate.


Here is a link that might be useful: January tomato plants in Los Angeles

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 10:11PM
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winstella(10b los angeles)

Lars: wow those are in your yard right now? When did you start them & when did you bring outside?

    Bookmark   January 29, 2014 at 11:19PM
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I started them outside in August or September and I never had them inside. By October, some had reached a decent size, but some were slow to start growing. I started putting supports for them in November. They seem to grow in spurts, and lately the Big Boy has been growing fairly quickly. I do feed them often and keep them in large pots, as I have very bad soil in my yard. The Roma is kind of spindly but puts out a fair number of tomatoes - the Big Boy has a few tomatoes on it and lots of flowers and shoots, but I don't know how much I will get from it in the end. The cherry tomato is the most dependable and grows steadily and makes the most tomatoes, and for the longer period of time.


    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 1:38AM
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I've tried keeping my plants going over the winter, but I
think I'm too close to the San Gabriel mountains and it
gets below 55 deg quite regularly. When it gets that
cool (being from Chicago, that's not cold), there's no fruit

If you drive north from my house about a mile, there's no
more roads, just mountains. In fact, the Colby fire a week
and a half ago, was right above my house a couple of miles.

    Bookmark   January 30, 2014 at 3:08AM
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Gosh, glad you're OK. Saw that on the news.

    Bookmark   February 4, 2014 at 8:57PM
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