As summer draws closer, it’s time to start putting out your garden. And no matter where you live or how big your garden is, almost every gardener plants out tomatoes. Tomatoes are adaptable; they work well in almost any sunny area, if they’re planted correctly to begin with.
Knowing how to plant your tomatoes can make the difference between weak plants that just do okay, and strong, healthy plants that actually thrive. The strong plants are the ones that get the best head start. Here are some instructions and tips for getting the most out of your tomato plants.
1) Choose your tomato plants by roots, not foliage.
A tomato plant may be well leafed out, and look good up top, but if it doesn’t have a sturdy root system, it won’t grow well. There are a number of ways to check a plant’s root system. The easiest way is simply to lift the pot or cell pack and look at the bottom. If there are fine white roots trying to peek out the drainage holes, you have a plant with a healthy root system.
Another way, although not quite as reliable, is to gently hold the stem between your thumb and forefinger, being very careful not to bruise or break it, and tug lightly. If it gives, it isn’t well rooted in. But never tug too hard, or you’ll end up uprooting and damaging even a healthy plant.
2) Dig a deep enough hole for your tomato plant.
With many plants, when you plant them from a pot into the ground, you want your hole to be the same size as the pot the plant just came out of. Tomatoes are different. When you plant your tomato, you want to bury all but the cluster of leaves at the very top. Look at the stem of the tomato plant. Do you see the fine hairs on it? When buried, those hairs turn into roots. This gives the plant a jump start on a healthy, established root system.
What if you have a tall tomato plant, or your ground is too shallow to be able to dig that deep? It’s not a problem. Instead of digging a deep hole, dig a trench, as deep as you can make it, and long enough to hold all but the top cluster of leaves. When you plant the tomato, you’ll lay it on its side in the trench, with the top curving gently upwards to poke above the soil.
3) Puddle it in.
Instead of planting the tomato in a dry (or even lightly moist) hole, then putting more dry (or lightly moist) soil around it, then watering it in, give your tomato the best possible start by puddling it in. The extra water will help the tomato get over its transplant shock faster.
4) Mulch your tomato plants.
Adding two or three inches of hardwood bark mulch around the tomato keeps the soil moist longer. Tomatoes don’t like to have their roots too wet for too long, but they don’t like to completely dry out, either. Mulch helps create this essential balance between too much water and too little.
These four tips will give your tomatoes the best possible start. So what are you waiting for? Get those tomato plants started!
By Keesa Renee DuPre