Pro Gardeners Use This Secret Hack to Grow the Best Tomatoes

Try it for yourself before planting this spring

harvested tomatoes and plant in the background

The Spruce / Autumn Wood 

For many home gardeners, tomatoes are one of the staple plants that are planted year after year without fail. They're versatile, tasty, and can produce surprisingly large yields—that is, if you know the best ways to grow them.

If you're looking to grow bigger tomato plants, there is a foolproof planting hack that could ensure stronger, healthier plants into the growing season: pruning the bottom leaves off the seedling and planting the tomato as deep as possible.

We spoke with gardening expert Kathy Jentz to get her insights on a tried and true "secret" tomato-growing hack that she (and many other pros) swear by, and you'll be shocked how simple it is to try in your own garden this spring.

Meet the Expert

Kathy Jentz is a gardening expert, speaker, and author of The Urban Garden.

tomato plants

How to Plant Tomatoes for Healthier Plants

The tomato planting hack requires no extra effort or supplies—simply a willingness to go against your planting instincts a bit. Because tomatoes will shoot new roots from any stem buried in soil, traditional planting methods of placing only the existing roots in the soil aren't as effective. Instead, you can strip off the lower leaves, keeping just "the top few strongest and largest leaves," Jentz says.

  • Opt to bury the stem itself deep in the soil, with just those leaves peeking out at the top, a method preferred by some gardeners.
  • Or, as Jentz and many other experts choose to do, push the boundaries a bit more. Try horizontally planting with your tomato seedlings. She recommends digging a narrow horizontal trench in your soil, and laying the now-stripped seedling stem inside it.

Then, she says, very gently bend up the top few remaining leaves so they are above the soil by just 3-5 inches. From there, backfill in the soil over the trench, and water well as you normally would.

"This gives the root zone a lot more area to spread and get established, making for much stronger roots and a healthy air plant in the end," Jentz says.

While it may go against all of your gardening instincts to plant sideways or rip leaves off a seedling, there are many successful gardeners using this "secret" method. And Jentz says she's "had healthier and more robust plants" since doing so.

person planting tomato transplants

The Spruce / Jayme Burrows

Do Any Other Plants Benefit from This Method?

While this strategy is fairly unique to tomatoes and can't be completely replicated on other plants, Jentz does note that a similar method is used to grow potatoes (a member of the same plant family) more successfully.

For potatoes, she says, plant the seed potatoes in a hole as you would with any bulb or tuber plant. However, once the plant has shot up a foot or so outside the soil, you fill in with dirt, burying the plant and leaving only about 3 inches of top leaves still showing—a process called "hilling your potatoes." Repeat this process a couple of times throughout the season as the plant grows taller.

Then, when it's time to harvest and you dig through that hill, "you'll see the root tubers—aka potatoes—have formed all along each of the levels that you buried the plant, giving you a much greater harvest then if you had just left it at the initial planting level," Jentz says.

How Else Can You Help Your Tomatoes Thrive?

If you're keen on other easy ways to ensure the best and healthiest tomato plants laden with fruit at the end of the summer, the temperature is the other key, according to Jentz. She says it's all too common for home gardeners to plant their seedlings outdoors far too early in the season when the soil is too cold—leaving the plants to just sit and wait for weeks until they can expand their roots.

person holding tomatoes

The result of premature planting in chilly temps? Trauma to your seedlings, and likely stunted growth down the line. Instead, Jentz says, regardless of the calendar or the air temperature, focus on the soil temperature. Ideally, plant when soil temperatures are 65-70 degrees Farenheit, to give your little seedlings the best shot at turning into massive, high-yield plants down the line.

Then, when it is time to plant, try out Jentz's favorite horizontal planting hack for yourself—you might just grow the healthiest tomatoes your garden has ever seen.