what ‘deep’ means (to a tomato)

tomatoseedlingsYES, WE HAVE A ‘WOO-WOO’ DEPT. HERE at A Way to Garden, but when I say “deep” in this post I’m not talking about that at all (for once). I’m talking tomatoes, and how to plant them, since it’s almost time. See how:

Tomatoes will produce best if they are well-rooted, so bury them deep, right down to the topmost pair or two of leaves. They are able to root all along their stems if you plant them very deep or even sideways, in a trench. The latter goes like this: Dig a small trench about 6 to 8 inches deep and almost as long as the plant (including its rootball) is tall. Lay the plant horizontally in the trench, gently bending the top end upward, and bury all but that end with the upper pair or two of leaves.

Because my soil is acidic, If I am feeling organized I give tomatoes a dose of lime in the planting hole, along with bone meal and an organic fertilizer labeled for vegetables. Some gardeners think tomatoes benefit from a dose of Epsom salts (a few tablespoons or so per plant), as do some rose experts about their roses, but I have stopped doing this (probably laziness). If you want to try, buy it in half-gallon milk-carton type containers at the pharmacy.

Staked or trellised tomatoes take up less space than caged ones, but require regular tying up and pruning of excess foliage. [Update: A tomato breeder suggests that staking and pruning, rather than caging, may be a better choice to help combat tomato disease if you’ve had issues.] I used to cage mine in a collection of wire cages, the best of which I made from concrete reinforcing wire of a large, rectangular gauge; the worst of which were, well, bad. The cages should be 18-24 inches across, and even at that size the biggest growers will push out quickly, anyhow.

I invested in Texas Tomato Cages, since in cages bigger is better (not so with tomato seedlings, which should be optimally 4 inches tall and wide when you plant them, and never spindly tall). If scary weather presents itself, or for a speedy start, wrap the cages temporarily with clear heavy plastic (clamp it on at the top and bottom with heavy clothespins or metal clamps from the hardware store).

If you have already purchased the pitifully undersized tomato cages from the garden center, don’t despair. They work perfectly on pepper plants, which can also be staked, or supported with a peony ring. When staking is the choice with any plant, from dahlias to young trees to vegetables, insert the stake at planting time to avoid accidentally damaging the underground root system later on.

For tomatoes (or peppers or eggplants) wait till frost danger passes to set them out…or at least Memorial Day weekend in the North. Remember, tomatoes want full sun, or at least lots of it. Want more tomato secrets?

  1. Elaine says:

    I didn’t know you were supposed to bury them that deep! I hope my tomatoes will be okay. Thanks for sharing this!

    What kind of organic fertilizer do you like to use? I went to the nursery and didn’t have a clue which organic fertilizer to choose.

  2. margaret says:

    @Susan: Bigger is better w/pots for tomatoes, too. Like a whiskey barrel kind of thing (and then you can put herbs like bush basil and parsley around its feet).
    @Elaine: My local farm store (Agway) has a brand made from byproducts of other industries (blood meal, manures…) and one brand that I know is more widely available is Espoma…but the seaweed emulsions and kelp-based products like Squanto’s Secret (I think that’s what it’s called) are great. And a p.s. to Elaine…they will be fine, deep or shallower. Deep just allows for maximum rooting, but either works. Tomatoes are weeds!

  3. Beth says:

    Margaret I’ve got BIG problems with my little tomato plants! I added some organic fertilizer- just scratched a bit in the top of the starter mix and in a few days, a light fuzzy layer developed on the top of the soil! Yikes- do I have to toss them all???

    1. margaret says:

      Welcome, Beth. This happens when organic matter gets moist…look in an unemptied compost bin or where mulch has not been cultivated in a rainy, warm season and such: fungal growth and molds and even sometimes mushrooms. Ugh. You are overwatering, I think, and also need to start a fan on low in the room to move the air. Have you read this post about seedlings?

      Can you GENTLY break up the crust that’s growing the mold on it after it dries a little? I think all wikl be fine, but don’t let plants stay sodden and keep the air moving and don’t add any more fertilizer.

  4. Fred from Loudonville, NY says:

    When I plant my tomatos, I take off a few rows of leaves from the bottom (one or two sets) depending on how big the plants are. I dig a deep hole, and throw in a bit of 5-10-5 and mix it around. Then I plant the tomato. I have also top dressed the plants with epsom salt, or the 5-10-5. Just a big PINCH. Also as the plants develop, especially with cherry tomatos, I take off side suckers. That makes the plants grow tall. Big Boy tomatos don’t seem to need that much suckering removal.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.