It’s tomato planting time! If you missed it last year, here’s my post on how to get those transplants into the ground.
I love tomatoes. I love growing them: pinching off the suckers, twining the vines around their rope trellises, watching them get taller than I am. And I love eating them in any form, especially in summery panzanella salads with big hunks of crusty bread and fresh basil.
To support my tomato habit, I cram as many tomatoes as I can into my little square foot garden. And I mean cram. One tomato plant per square foot, lined up along the north end of the garden beds. Of course, to support this kind of intensive planting, your plants will need to develop big, deep root systems. So how do you make that happen?
Cheat. Plant your tomato extra deep, so only the top few leaves stick out. When you plant tomatoes like this, new roots will grow all along the length of the buried stem. With roots in the deeper, moister area of the soil, they’ll get more water and nutrients, resist pests and diseases, and stay healthy through dry spells — especially important during the current drought.
How to transplant tomato seedlings
Before you transplant your tomato seedlings, strip off the side stems and leaves from the lower 2/3 of the plant. I use my thumbnail to pinch through the stems, being careful not to damage the main stem. Bonus: your hands will smell like tomato leaves, which is just one of the best smells there is.
Feed your soil before you plant. I like to dig in a couple trowelfuls of compost, plus some bone meal and crushed eggshells for added calcium. Don’t just sprinkle it in the bottom of your hole — stir it into the deeper soil, to encourage the plants to send roots down even deeper.
Dig the planting hole deep enough to bury 2/3 of the stem. When you fill in the soil, only the top, leafy portion should be left above the soil. Sure, your plants will look tiny compared to the big leafy seedlings you brought home from the nursery, but they’ll make up the difference soon, rewarding you with bigger, healthier plants.
Some people plant their tomatoes in trenches, laying them on their sides instead of digging deep holes. I don’t think this makes them quite as strong or drought-resistant, but I’m not an expert. If you trench them, bend the stems gently, just so the top third isn’t buried. Don’t worry about making them point straight up; they’ll grow up towards the sun on their own.
However you plant them, give your tomatoes a good, deep soaking right away — enough to wet the soil all the way down to the roots.