How to Plant a Tomatoes

  • 01 of 04

    How to Plant a Tomato

    Tomato plant
    firemanYU / Getty Images

    Tomato seedlings are sensitive to cold air and soil temperatures, so we have to wait until things warm up, before getting them started outdoors. Of course, you'll want to harden them off first. But before you put them in the ground, the soil temperature should be above 60 F. I also like to wait until night time temps stay reliably above 50 F., although many sources say you can get a few degrees cooler.

    Tomatoes are not difficult to grow. You can plop them in the ground, prop them up and off...MORE they go. But if you'd like to give your tomato plants an edge, there's a quick trick you can do at planting time, to increase the number of roots they grow. More roots mean more water and nutrients being taken up by the plant, which should lead to a healthier, stronger plant.

    The trick is burying part of the stem when you first transplant the seedling. Tomatoes have what are called adventitious roots - an appropriate term if you ask me. Adventitious roots do not form from the main root. They develop from the upper part of the plant, the stems, leaves or branches.

    In the case of tomatoes, they form along the stem, mostly the lower stem. If you look closely, you'll see little bumps along the stem. These are the adventitious roots waiting to be formed.

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  • 02 of 04

    Planting Tomatoes Deeper than They Were in the Pot

    Planting Tomatoes in Trenches
    Burying the tomato stem will result in plentiful roots, all along the buried portion of the stem. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Since we want to bury a portion of the tomato plant stem, we have 2 choices:

    1. We can dig a deep hole
    2. We can dig a long trench and bury the stem sideways.

    The options are pretty straight forward. The advantage to digging a deep hole is that the roots will start off deeper, where the soil may be holding more water.

    The advantages of burying the stem sideways are:

    1. It's easier than digging a deep hole
    2. The soil is warmer, and the plant may initially grow faster.

    I tend to go the minimal digging route,...MORE and I've had success. A 6 - 10-inch seedling works best. You are going to bury the plant up to the last few leaves, so dig a trench the appropriate size. If you have a 10-inch seedling and you want to bury it up to the last 3 inches, you'll need about a 7-inch trench. You can angle the trench slightly, root side angling down, but it's not necessary.

    Remove the seedling from its pot. Loosen the roots slightly, as you normally would. Gently lay the seedling down in the trench. Handle the stem carefully. It can always grow more leaves, but you don't want to snap the stem.

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  • 03 of 04

    Getting Your Tomato Plants Firmed In

    Planting Tomatoes Deeply
    Be careful not to press too hard on top of the stem. Give it time to settle in. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    You don't need to remove the leaves that are on the part of the stem that will be buried. In fact, taking them off can risk injuring the stem. Just make the trench deep enough to accommodate them. Make sure you have a few inches resting on the soil, above the trench. Then go ahead and pull the soil over the stem and roots. Firm it in gently and water well.

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  • 04 of 04

    Getting Tomato Plants Established

    Planting Tomatoes
    Sacrificing some height, when planting tomato plants, makes for a stronger plant. Photo: © Marie Iannotti

    Don't worry if the top of your tomato plant seems to be laying down. It will reach for the sun quickly and be growing straight and tall. Now is the time to get your stake or cage in the soil. Be very careful not to drive it through the stem you just buried.

    You don't need to feed the plant now if your soil has plenty of organic matter in it. If your soil is poor, you can amend it at planting time.

    And that's it. Stand back and watch your tomatoes take off. A word of caution, since this...MORE planting technique encourages your tomato plants to send out lots of roots, they will be difficult to pull out of the soil, at the end of the season. Still, it's a small price to pay for healthy, productive tomatoes, don't you think?

    More on growing and caring for tomato plants