Stunted Tomato Growth?

marissabee92(8)February 14, 2013

I've had my tomatos planted for a little over two months now. I remember growing some when I was in elementary and they grew really fast, but these are stunted at two or three inches in height. They seem frail and I'm almost scared to touch them.

I planted about ten of them, because I'm growing for myself and my extended family.

Is it my choice in soil? Do I need to fertilize? I'm not entirely sure what to do here.

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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Give us details about the kind of tomatoes you're groowing, the potting mix you're using, the temperature and the light source. Yes, seedlings will need some fertilizer from the time they form their first true leaves unless the potting mix includes fertilizer. A photo would help. My tomato plants can grow to 12-18 inches in two months. Most people plant the starts outside at 6-8 weeks. Clearly, something is wrong with your tomatoes.

    Bookmark   February 14, 2013 at 9:09PM
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The packet they came in doesn't specify which kind they are... but I'm assuming they're heirloom. I was using starter potting soil, and I have them outside about six hours a day in their pot and it's about 60 - 70 degrees outside right now.

I feel so awkward right now. I can't plant in the ground due to us renting, I'm planning on make above ground beds for the veggies, and planting them in there.. I don't know why they're stunted though.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 12:03AM
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I am not an expert but I have a few questions. How dry is the soil? How much shade are they getting? Were they grown exclusively outside and what is the night time temperature?

To me it looks like they were shocked going in the sun too long but as I said I am not an expert.

    Bookmark   February 15, 2013 at 3:11AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

marissabee92, is your "starter potting soil" seed-starting mix or something else?

(When someone says "soil" we tend to interpret that literally as "dirt" rather than a soil-less mix for containers. Dirt is a problem when growing in containers because believe it or not, it doesn't drain well.)

What kind of a packet did the seeds come in (if you still have it to consult)? Maybe there's a name but it's not something you recognize as a name.

For instance, there are varieties named Florida 91, Patio, and Super Fantastic. Also BHN 589, Big Red, and Large Pink. Wes, Fabulous, and Russian 117.

Cold Set, Ugly-Ripe, and Fourth of July sound like descriptions rather than variety names. Fresh Salsa sounds more like a recipe than a tomato variety. There's a Canadian tomato called Microbeicum Occemus -- which sounds like it should be a fungal disease of tomatoes (maybe not if I'd taken Latin).

Black, Grape, and Beefsteak are all types of tomatoes -- but confusingly are also the names of individual varieties.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 3:02AM
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Well, they came in a paper packet. Ah, I see.. they said beefsteak.

They started wilting this morning.

I watered them once a week, or if the soil seemed dry, stuck my finger in it to tell. I plan on replanting, and maybe it'll work out better.

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 11:44AM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

Well, I was thinking more like a packet you bought in a big-box store or on eBay, or the brand (Burpee, Ferry-Morse, etc.), or something like that.

Beefsteak (aka Red Ponderosa, Crimson Cushion, Scarlet Beefsteak, etc.) is an old open-pollinated variety (it goes back to 1890). Here's what some vendors say about it:

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 12:06PM
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Ohiofem(6a Ohio)

Marissabee: although your potting mix looks acceptable, your plants look they've been growing in toxic soil. Before you try growing any more seeds in the same conditions, it would be good to figure out what went wrong. Are they in a disposable aluminum pan? Did you add anything to the water or use soft water or very hard water on them? Is there fertilizer in the potting mix? Seedlings do need to be fertilized, but at less than full strength. I'm wondering if something leached from the container.

I suggest you read the directions for growing tomatoes from seed in the FAQ section. Depending on your temperatures, you might want to just buy some tomato plants from the store this year. If you haven't grown them before, you might want to grow only three or four plants. Ten plants are a lot to maintain, especially in Texas.

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

    Bookmark   February 16, 2013 at 12:46PM
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Bets(z6A S ID)


One more question: If the tomatoes are planted in an aluminum pan, does it have drainage holes? If it does not that could account for the stunted growth since there could be a layer of stagnant water in the bottom of the pan.

Tomatoes need to have drainage, even as baby plants. Many growers water their tomato seedlings by setting them into shallow water for a few minutes until the growing medium is wet, then they take them out and allow the excess water to drain.

Roots need air, and an aluminum pan without drainage doesn't allow sufficient air to get to them.


    Bookmark   February 18, 2013 at 6:03PM
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Bets said..."One more question: If the tomatoes are planted in an aluminum pan, does it have drainage holes?"

Based on the picture, that was going to be my exact question too.

    Bookmark   February 21, 2013 at 12:19PM
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My bet is that you have a combination of problems and the primary one is temperature. If you do not have temps at night of 50 degrees, your tomatoes will not grow an inch.

If you have them outside, you will have to bring them in at night.

The potting mix could also be a problem as most will limit growth substantially but they would be much bigger than you have now regardless.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 5:34PM
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Here's my suggestion for you. Get yourself a styrofoam cup that you can pick up off the ground everywhere in Texas. Transplant your sprouts into the cups with your potting mix. Every day give just enough water so that it slightly puddles around the stem. Sit them in your apartment window where they will get sun. Take them outside for sun when possible. Always bring them in at night.

Once your plants are four to six inches tall transfer into a 32 oz or 44 oz styrofoam cup that you can pick up off the ground everywhere in Texas. Those will also fit easily on your window sill. They will grow to 12 inches in those and will be ready to put in the ground come March 15.

    Bookmark   February 22, 2013 at 6:00PM
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I started tomato and pepper seeds in plastic cups about 6 weeks ago and I have a few stunted tomato/peppers as well. I also have a few that already have their 3rd/4th set of leaves and am wondering why they're doing well while others are not. Maybe the soil is a bit too cold?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 6:38PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

oilrigg, if the stunted seedlings and the non-stunted ones are located in the same area, I would think the problem couldn't be temperature.

It could be uneven watering. If you have a peaty mix, some cups might have dried out (peat is very difficult to re-hydrate after it dries).

Do the cups have drain-holes? Do you water from the bottom or the top?

Can you think of any differences between the location of the taller seedlings and the location of the stunted ones?

Most tomato seeds will sprout within a few days of each other, but a few individual seeds will sprout at widely different times. They may have been planted a bit deeper, or the mix around them may have washed away so the seed lay atop the mix, or they might not have been watered quite as much. Some varieties have the reputation for sprouting later. Older seed may sprout later.

Last spring I had a flat of tomato seedlings (dozens of different varieties) that lagged behind the other flats and from the beginning looked ... odd compared to the other seedlings. No idea why. They didn't perk up until I got them outside. I probably should have asked here rather than simply giving them dirty looks and telling them to get their act together.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 7:15PM
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I keep the plastic cups in cardboard boxes under 4 100W CFL grow lights about 5" from the light. Every now and then the plants get shuffled around. When it's sunny outside I bring the plants outside.

I have 8 or more 1/8" drain holes at the bottom of the plastic cups. It's stacked on top of another plastic cup to catch any excess water.

Actually, I sprouted both tomato and pepper seeds by soaking them in water for a few days and left on top of a warm spot until it started sprouting. When I planted them, I planted 1 seed per plastic cup. There were some that had 2 or more seeds because I ran out of cups. On Feb 2nd, I separated those seedlings and it seems like those are the plants that are growing much faster than the others.

I tried taking a look at the roots of the stunted tomato seedlings and they were about 4" long and a few longer than that.

Could it be that by planting two or more seeds per cup actually makes the seedlings stronger? Or maybe when I separated the seedlings I may have accidentally damaged/cut off the roots and that in turn shocked the plants into growing stronger?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 8:43PM
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missingtheobvious(Blue Ridge 7a)

oilrigg, I've never sprouted seeds as you do; I used to use peat-pellets and now sow the seeds in seed-starting mix.

I have a similar set-up to yours except mine are in multi-cell inserts in 10x20 flats, and I keep the cool (not grow) fluorescents about an inch above the top leaves. [I have sheets and chunks of styrofoam which I stack under the flats; as the seedlings grow, I remove layers of styrofoam. This saves the hassle of having to raise the lights all the time.]

I water them from below, let them sit for 10-20 minutes, then just lift out the insert and switch it for a flat that hasn't been watered yet; this means that ideally the seedlings don't sit in the water too long.

I plant 2-5 seeds per cell, depending on the age of the seeds and whether or not I've had trouble germinating them before. I've never noticed any correlation between the number of seeds and the health or size of the seedlings.

When I'm transplanting to 16 oz. cups, I can be pretty rough on seedlings; and sometimes I save two seedlings from the same cell, which certainly kills a number of rootlets. I don't know if they respond positively to rough treatment as you speculate, but I do know that it doesn't seem to set them back much.

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 9:27PM
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Do you still water from below when you transplant into 16 oz cups?

I generally water from the top, but water slowly. The top inch or two seems to dry out fairly quickly.

I just unpotted one of my stunted tomato seedlings and the roots seem thin and the stem seems to have gotten thinner. The soil actually looks wet, but feels dry. Maybe the problem is underwatering?

    Bookmark   February 24, 2013 at 11:02PM
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From the picture my first instinct would be to get the seedlings transplanted to a different media ASAP. Sure, the Al pan is a "No-no" and temps or light may be undesirable but occasionally you just get a bad media mix. I started a few plants in last year's media and I could tell just from the way the flats drained that something just wasn't right. Many coteledons were "Yellowing" as the seedlings emerged. Now that they are all transplanted into a new batch of an identical brand of media all growth and drainage characteristics are going back to normal.
There are a whole host of things that can go wrong- many were mentioned. Change your methods and start again taking all suggestions into account. I would suggest you not fertilize at the start and even scrutenize your water- Is it chlorinated; is salt level high due to softener; Are you watering with ice cold water? any of these things, seamingly minor, could cause problems.

    Bookmark   February 25, 2013 at 10:11AM
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