Saturday, April 23, 2011

How I Plant Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far the most widely grown item in the home vegetable garden and with good reason – they taste better if allowed to ripen on the vine and those from the store are picked mostly green or they could not be shipped in baskets without turning into juice.

One of the unique features of tomato plants is that all parts of the stem that touch the ground will put out roots rather than rotting like many plants, so the stem can be buried when planting. I plant mine pretty deep so they will have access to more water, which they require a lot of when fruiting.

This is certainly not a requirement and totally impractical for large numbers of plants, but I dig my planting holes with post hole diggers to plant them deep for water and for more root development. Notice I have a piece of drip tape (irrigation) laid out to ensure the plants get the correct spacing - right at the water emitter.

Next I add a handful of compost and a heavy pinch of gypsum (use lime if your soil tends to be acidic – pH in the 6.5 range).

You do not want to add a fertilizer at this point (just the compost) and tomatoes never like much nitrogen as you will get great plants but few tomatoes. While most soils have plenty, I add the gypsum (or lime or crushed egg shells), to ensure a source of calcium to the plant. Blossom end rot is due to a lack of calcium, but I’ll cover this later – right now we just need to plant them.

Next, I pinch off all but the top 2 or 3 sets of leaves and tease the roots (rough up those around the outside), if they are root bound – this applies to all planting and encourages the roots to grow outward rather than continuing in a circle around the stem. I once had a tree that achieved 6” diameter but kept falling over because I failed to do this – had to cut it down.

Then mix some soil with the compost and gypsum in the hole, move it to the side, and set the root ball in the bottom and firm the mix around it.  I then fill the hole half way with soil, firm (not pack) it and water, which will ensure any trapped air will bubble out. It’s important to water-in the plants as trapped air will dry out the roots - I got a liitle too much in this one.

I add soil up to the original ground level and firm some which will create a small well to catch and hold water to feed the roots – a mound will feed the water away from the plant. Don’t pack it too tight as you want the water to easily penetrate the top layer, then water it again.  The stick along side the stem is up against it to prevent cut worms from wrapping around the stem and eating it - the wood or plastic plant ID stick works well also.

Finally I mulch with straw for water retention, weed control, and disease control – many diseases live in the soil and I don’t want the leaves to touch it nor rain water to splash soil onto them.

Later I’ll cover the various aspects of growing maters (and other plants) – staking/caging, fertilizing, pruning, disease and pest control, etc. Bear in mind that much of what I cover is generic and applies to all plants – teasing the roots prior to planting for example.  One final comment - it's always best to transplant of an evening or on a cloudy day so the plants don't have to immediately stand up to the sun's full heat - remember, we've just disturbed the roots.

When you go to buy plants, you will often find large plants that already have tomatoes on them – buy them if you must but…  Bev kept after me to plant one and I resisted, but I finally agreed, just to show her the outcome. So I planted one – gallon pot size - and right beside it I planted my normal size plant of the same variety. The large plant ripened the fruit it had on it, although they didn’t get much larger, it grew very little, and in a few weeks the other one had shot by it - it produced very few tomatoes.  The larger the plant the less it likes being transplanted.  If you can’t resist the urge plant one, remove all of the fruit and blooms for a couple of weeks so the plant will devote its energy to root development, which will be critical for the remainder of the season, or you will likely get what I got.

Thanks to Bev and neighbor Pat doing the actual planting while I laid things out, dug the holes, and watered, we got our 38 maters and 18 peppers in the ground in a couple of hours on Tuesday- ahead of the in-coming rain.

All photos can be enlarged by clicking on them.

Have a great day and thanks for stopping by Almost Heaven South.

One year ago:  Fields Of yellow



  1. I love home grown tomatoes! Have fun when you are visiting New England. There is certainly a lot to see here. Hopefully by the time you get here the temps will have warmed up a bit and it will have stopped raining.

  2. Thanks for all these tips! My parents always plant tomatoes, albeit pretty haphazardly.

  3. Nice tips. I also remove all branches and leaves up to the very top. Sometimes my plants are 6 or more inches deep in the soil. I also mulch but use grass clippings instead of straw. I just make sure it's not full of weed seed.
    I prune my plants as they grow as well to direct energy to only the fruit and not useless new growth that will bear tomatoes but too late in the season for them to ever harvest before frost.

  4. I can't wait to see all the posts on this subject. I do okay, not great, with tomatoes, so I need to see how it should be done!

  5. Larry,
    I've changed my site address

  6. This is incredibly useful information. Even with my haphazard planting techniques I've usually gotten pretty good results...until last year. Disaster. I'll take more care this year. I've always resisted buying those big plants, now I know why.

  7. I have such a hard time growing tomatoes here in SE Wisconsin because of the humidity caused by Lake Michigan. Too many big sugar maple trees around the yard don't help either! I usually get leaf spot by the end of summer. There is nothing like a delicious, home grown tomato.

  8. Great post Larry!! I can tell you have a green thumb. :)

  9. Thanks for doing the gardening posts - I appreciate you sharing your knowledge & can't wait to see the others!!

  10. I love these tips, I am so proud of my plum tomatoes, they are like my babies.. I do not have a green thumb so I appreciate the tips...! thanks

  11. I hope it's not too late for us to change our potted ones. I'm checking with Alexis to see but I don't remember adding calcium.


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