A few weeks ago I planted two different types of tomato seeds. Everything went as usual. I was amazed about how fast they germinated, they pushed up their cotyledons, the first set of true leaves started to emerge....

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...and then: Nothing.

They appear like "frozen in time". No more growth, but no signs of disease or wilting either. The stems are thick and solid, the not-yet developed leaves dark green. The cotyledons have turned a bit yellow lately, though. (Colours in the photo are slightly off.)

I had suspected lack of nutritients and the roots had been "wandering out" their original pots, so I transplanted them in the next pot size (which I'd normally do at a later stage), but still absolutely no change.

Did my tomatoes discover the secret of eternal youth and I should sell them to a pharmaceutical company, or what did I do wrong?


I gave up - no further growth except for slightly larger leaves in one pot. We'd need an exceptionally long and warm autumn to even have a chance of a harvest.

I would accept Escoce's comment if I could.

  • 1
    My experience is that it's just not warm and bright enough to trigger more growth. If it takes too long before they warm up and get more light then they'll never grow.
    – Escoce
    May 12, 2016 at 17:25
  • Have you tried pulling any of them out of their pots, could they be root-bound already and that prohibits their growth? I don't know an enormous amount about tomatoes. Also, the ones that have in my window sill do better when they get more sun, are they getting enough?
    – Throsby
    May 12, 2016 at 20:25
  • Are they outdoors or indoors? What is the temperature where they are?
    – JStorage
    May 12, 2016 at 23:45
  • Looks a touch dry to me, for one thing. Might also be some transplant shock in the mix now, though that does not last too long, normally.
    – Ecnerwal
    May 13, 2016 at 1:31
  • @Throsby certainly not root bound. I'm positive they get enough sun.
    – Stephie
    May 13, 2016 at 13:52

5 Answers 5


It could be a number of things. Since you already ruled out root bound, here's what else you should check:

  1. Soil too compacted so roots can't expand.
  2. Poor quality compost, such as too coarse and therefore not properly decomposed (this is actually a common problem, my experience is that good quality properly decomposed compost is hard to come by).
  3. Compost is simply low in nitrogen.
  4. Low temperature or sunlight.

It could be a combination of any of these but I would bet on number two.


Sorry to hear. It is possible that the roots were in air pockets or damaged to where they could not get nutrients, but tomatoes when repotted and buried 2/3 of the plant will usually form roots on the stem when exposed to the soil. The cotyledons should provide them enough oomph to get established. It might be something else.

This isn't the solution to your current problem and since they didn't survive it isn't applicable, but rather some growing tips to increase the survival rate and health of tomatoes for other readers.

I have two growing seasons where I live and for the first season I try to get them started early before the sweltering heat and hungry insects eat the fruits of my labor.

Determining When to Sow Seeds

Determine the last frost date in your area and work backwards. Subtract 1 week for germination, then 4-6 weeks which is usually the age they use for the Days to Maturity. That should be your sowing date. If it is cold at time then you can start them inside under a heating pad on low power to warm the soil since they are tropical in nature. Also be mindful of the days to maturity in case you have a shorter growing season. Some varieties like Azoychka have a shorter days to maturity than the larger beefsteak varieties.


I do it via wet paper towels in a small plastic sandwich bag, but you can do it in a tray with a small amount of potting mix with a clear tray cover for a greenhouse. When they sprout you gently transplant them to your pots. I use a sterile potting medium and bury them 1/2 to 2/3 of the plant height deep. I repot as necessary staying away from the peat pots. Always bury them 2/3 deep for stronger root structure. I keep the soil warm to trigger plant growth otherwise they slow down so I keep them inside and/or keep them under the heating pad at night on low to keep the soil warm.


Light from a southern window isn't enough for tomatoes and also your glass my have UV coating. Even if you have the window open they may not be getting hours of daylight they need. I setup a fluorescent shop light and put the tomatoes under them. They aren't hot so keep them within 1 inch(2.5cm) of the top of the plants day and night so that they will get as much light as possible. Sunlight is preferable, but at night you should still give them light as well. For me it is easier just to keep them under shop lights.

As the Tomato plants grow upwards toward the light move the light so that the top of the plants remain within the 1 inch (2.5cm) spacing. You can also put a small fan about 3 yards (1 meter) away from them on low power for a few hours. This wind will activate hormones in the plant so that it won't be spindly/leggy and a more stockier plant. You can do the same thing by gently moving your hand over the top of the plants daily.


I alternate waterings with feedings every other week with a diluted fish emulsion or kelp at 1/4 to 1/2 the recommended rate. I have the pots in a tray and water from the bottom to reduce the chance wetting the leaves. If you prefer to use synthetic liquid fertilizer you will need to figure out the ratio, but start at the low end ratio like 1/4 ratio to reduce the chances of burning the plant.


After the 3rd or 4th week I may repot if they are getting root bound. If you use clear plastic cup or the hydroponic basket style pots where the soil is visible you can montitor the roots. Again, for every transplant try to bury the plant in the new pot at 2/3 depth (remove bottom leaves if needed) so that the plant can have a good root system.

Hardening Off

When the weather forecast calls for a mild or warm temperature slowly harden them off by taking them outside gradually (an hour at first then longer periods) and increase the outside time until they are about 5-6 weeks old. Eventually have them out overnight in a place free from pests/animals. This will reduce the amount of transplant shock when you do put them in your garden.


I tend to have more plants than garden planting space so I pick the best plants and give the remainder to my family and friends. Again make the planting hole at a depth that is 2/3 the height of your plant and remove bottom leaves/suckers if they are below the soil. You can put a handful of crushed eggshells mixed with bottom soil. It is better if you grind them in a blender or coffee grinder so that they are dust rather than shells. This will make them more readily available. I put a handful of vermicompost in hole as well. I put a top dressing of compost with about 4-5 inches (10-12 cm) of mulch. Water well.
Remove any flowers to encourage plant growth. Keep the soil well fed and alive with amendments and organic material.


I have experienced this after transplanting them from 4" pots to raised bed. I think you need to fertilize them so they keep growing and that typically does the trick for me.


I had the same issue of "frozen in time" seedlings with tomato, peppers and chilli, mine were frozen for 3 months with no growth and yet not showing any signs of decay either. I live in Australia and its quite hot and dry here in my state. I did some research on internet and found out tips that seemed to have solved my problem, because i can see new growth in leaves .

I think the roblem was that i was using the used potting soil which was supposed to feed the plants for only three months. So when i planted the seeds , they did come out but could not find enough nutrients to grow more. I transplanted half of them to new potting soil and half to the garden bed but situation was the same, still no growth.

Those plants that i transplanted to new potting mix were doing ok, atleast they were not dying but those ones which i transplanted to garden bed died except 2 of them who survived.

After my research i added NPK fretilizer with trace elements to the 2 survivor plants in the garden bed and a little to other plants in new potting mix. i waited for a week to see if it works, and it was because the plants did start to look to be on the healthier side. After 6 days i mixed some epsom salt in water and watered my tomato, pepper and chilli plants with it and that seemed to have worked like magic. I learnt that these plants need a lot of nutrients and magnesium to grow happily and epsom salt with fertilizer provided just that. Hope this helps others😊


Fertilize them. For me it was exactly the same, with peppers and eggplants too . I was in the same problem until I read that this could be the lack of nutrients in the potting mix once the true leaves have sprouted.

  • This was already proposed in the best-rated answer.
    – J. Chomel
    Jul 9, 2018 at 9:22

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