San Marzano Tomato Emergency-Calling All Tomato Experts
June 4, 2013 3:27 AM   Subscribe

My San Marzano tomato seedlings have stopped growing. They have one small set of leaves on them and I have them out on the deck.

It has been cooler than normal up here and not as sunny as usual. I don't dare put them in the ground just yet. Can they stay like this a little longer?

Am I wasting my time trying to nurse these or should I just start some more? Will these seedlings ever start to grow and considering they've been kind of stunted will they ever produce?
posted by AuntieRuth to Home & Garden (11 answers total)
Where are you? In my area (Pennsylvania) and most of the northern US, it's much too late in the season to be starting tomatoes from seed. Unless you are in the south, with a longer growing season, you'd probably do best to buy some plants from a nursery.
posted by jon1270 at 3:36 AM on June 4, 2013

I really don't think it's too late. I'm in the Northeast and just put skimpy little Amish paste plants into the garden last weekend. Those things fruit for months.

I'd just try to keep them alive until the next three days or so of warmth and plant them then. If they're going to die, they'll die, and then you can get some seedlings and replace them, but I have found San Marzanos hard to find at the nursery and I think it's worth sticking it out.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:47 AM on June 4, 2013

You might bring them inside or put a box over them at night though -- it's been chilly.
posted by A Terrible Llama at 3:48 AM on June 4, 2013

Response by poster: Jon, I am in Maine and I started these in 20 Apr. It's been a moody spring with not as much sun as usual for spring.
posted by AuntieRuth at 4:53 AM on June 4, 2013

Best answer: When I grew San Marzanos I found them to be slow starters, such that after the first year I started them from seed in February or March indoors to give them long enough to really develop.

Your plants sound absolutely normal. I'd definitely bring them in at night if possible, as the cold/dark won't do much for them.

I also found - I'm in Canada - that they would just be getting started to really produce fruit as our growing season was winding up (around mid-September). I think they were expecting that beautiful long Italian/Mediterranean autumn that drags into mid-November.

That said, the tomatoes that did make it were spectacular! Good luck.
posted by lulu68 at 5:00 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Another option might be to surround them with a cage covered in clear plastic, creating a sort of mini greenhouse to raise temperatures and protect them from any late frost.
posted by jon1270 at 5:37 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

The cold and lack of sun means they just haven't gotten growth. I abandoned my seedlings and got plants at a nursery (in Oxford). In your case, I'd try to make a bit of a green house for them. You probably have tomato cages that you can use as a framework, and some clear plastic around the sides.
posted by theora55 at 6:42 AM on June 4, 2013

I'd go ahead and stick them in the ground. If they're small enough to fit under a mason jar or a plastic bottle cut in half, you can use that at night to cover them and recapture some of the daytime warmth from the soil. That's what I did with my San Marzanos - they've been in the ground since early May (in Canada), and they only had a couple leaves when I planted them.

On the other hand, my garden is very Darwinian, and I don't coddle things - if a plant doesn't survive some chilly nights on its own, it's surely not going to survive a season of my benign neglect.
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 6:45 AM on June 4, 2013 [3 favorites]

I learned to garden growing up in the Mid Coast. Here's what I'd do:

Get some black plastic drop sheet from the hardware store, and put it down over your bed. Cut some X's in the sheet, fold back the resulting flaps, plant the tomatoes through the holes, put the flaps back in place. Cover with boxes or really whatever's available if the unlikely happens and you get a June frost.

Tomatoes tend to experience a bout of rapid development after they're planted. The black plastic will help the sun warm up the soil, which will warm the tomatoes' roots, which will further accelerate growth. It has the added benefit of retaining moisture, which will benefit the plants when the weather finally does get hot.
posted by Mayor Curley at 7:24 AM on June 4, 2013 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thank you Lulu, I have grown many other types and usually have at least 2 or 3 sets of leaves by now. After seeing how much they are by the can I thought I'd give them a try for sauce. All the chefs rave about them. If you can grow these in Canada((!)) I should be able to get some here in southern Maine.

I like the black plastic idea Mayor Curley.

And Mary Ellen my theory of gardening is similar--I've got a life to live and if you can't take my garden--TOUGH
posted by AuntieRuth at 10:04 AM on June 4, 2013

Response by poster: Update: I made a tomatoe teepee out of the 8ft poles and some plastic and it worked!!

The San Marzano's have added two more tiers of leaves and the other small beefsteaks are loving their new environment.

It's still cooler than usual up here although we are due for some heat this week. Thanks for the advice. I'll let you know how they come out later.
posted by AuntieRuth at 3:23 AM on June 22, 2013

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