The Best Time to Plant Tomatoes in Chicago (And How to Care for Them)

The peak of tomato season in Chicago is roughly from mid-July through September. If you’re lucky enough to have a garden or access to one, planting tomatoes at home is an excellent idea. These plants require plenty of sunlight and warmth, so they’re a bit harder to grow if you live in a cold place with short summers. Luckily, you can grow them in containers and place them on your porch or balcony – almost anywhere that gets sun for at least six hours per day. That said, check out these tips on the best time to plant tomatoes in Chicago as well as how to care for them once they’ve taken root.

What’s the Best Time to Plant Tomatoes Indoors in Chicago?

Timing is everything when planting tomatoes indoors, especially if you live in a climate where the weather is unpredictable. Ideally, you want to start your tomato seeds six to eight weeks before the last frost in your area. Because the growing season is so short in Chicago, this is probably the best option. Another good rule of thumb is to start them 16 weeks before you hope to harvest your tomatoes. If you start your seeds sometime during April, you should be able to transplant them outside in the second part of May (after May 15th, the last frost date). If unsure how to transplant them, you can consult your local nursery or one of the many Chicago landscape designers, as gardeners are a very friendly bunch and very eager to share their secrets with others.

You can grow tomatoes indoors year-round if you have the right setup (grow lights, etc.).

When Is It Warm Enough To Transplant Tomatoes Outside?

If you decide to start your seedlings indoors, you’ll need to transplant them to the soil sometime between late May and early July. This will give them plenty of time to grow before the first frost date in your area. When you transplant them, the soil temperature should be at least 65° F. Ideally, you should wait until the soil is warm, but not too hot (e.g. above 80° F). You can measure the temperature with a soil thermometer. Tomatoes are warm-weather plants, so they don’t thrive in cold soil.

Care for Your Tomatoes Once They’re Planted

Planted tomatoes will thrive with consistent watering, rich soil, and plenty of sunlight. If your soil is sandy, you may want to add some organic matter to improve the texture and drainage. You can do this by adding a few handfuls of compost, manure, or other organic fertilizer to each planting hole. Be sure to water your tomatoes regularly, especially if you live in a dry climate. Otherwise, the plants will likely get stressed or die as a result of the dry soil. Those that are planted in containers will need more frequent watering than those in the ground. If your plants are wilting in the afternoon, you may need to water them more regularly. Additionally, you should water the plants from the bottom up, rather than the top down. This helps prevent disease.

How to Fertilize Tomatoes

You should fertilize your tomatoes once or twice during the growing season. Choose from organic fertilizers like compost, manure, fish emulsion, or a synthetic fertilizer. . In cooler areas, you may want to add a fertilizer during the early part of the growing season when your tomatoes are just starting to bud. This will give them a boost so they can produce full, healthy tomatoes. You also need to choose the right time to fertilize tomatoes. Manure and compost will release nutrients more slowly, so you don’t want to apply them too early in the season. Most experts recommend waiting until your tomatoes have grown two leaves.

Selecting the Right Variety of Tomato for Your Climate

When choosing which tomato varieties to grow, you’ll need to consider your growing climate. If you live in a cooler climate, you’ll want to choose short-season varieties that mature early. If you live in a warmer climate, you can wait a bit longer to harvest your tomatoes. Mid-season varieties are a good choice in warmer areas. If you’re in a very warm area, you can grow late-season varieties that mature even later. If you’re growing tomatoes indoors, you’ll need to choose varieties that are small enough to fit in your containers.


If you live in an area where the growing season is short and temperatures are low, growing tomatoes indoors is a great way to get your tomato fix. If you can provide 16 weeks of warmth, light, and water, you can have plenty of fresh tomatoes. Indoors, you can choose from a wide variety of tomato varieties. You can also make sure they get everything they need to grow big and juicy.

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