what ‘deep’ means (to a tomato)
YES, 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?