“What is the absolute best way to plant tomatoes?”
That question was posed to us last week via email from one of our readers located in upstate New York. It is a question we actually receive quite often – and one we love to answer.
We love growing tomatoes. In fact, our heirloom tomato crop is by far the most utilized of all of the vegetables we grow.
Beyond eating loads of them fresh in season – we use our tomato harvest to make homemade tomato juice, pizza and pasta sauce, salsa and picante.
And then of course there is homemade ketchup, fire-roasted tomatoes, and a long list of soups – from tomato to chili, vegetable and more!
So, as we approach another glorious planting season, I thought it would be the perfect time to tackle the subject with this week’s garden article.
The simple fact is – when and how you plant tomatoes really can make a huge difference in how your plants perform. Getting your tomato plants off to a great start is vital to a great harvest.
And over the years, we have learned to put into practice a few key tips that help our tomato plants produce heavy yields, year after year.
The Perfect Way To Plant Tomatoes
Let The Soil Warm
The first step to success is planting when the soil has warmed up, and not a moment before.
Plants that go into the ground too early can have their growth stunted by the cool soil.
Tomato plants that are transplanted in warmer soil adjust more rapidly, absorb nutrients better, and grow at a much faster rate.
Be sure to wait until the threat of frost has passed, and you have had several days of warming sun to heat the soil.
If you live in a cooler climate, you might even try helping to warm the soil up by laying down black plastic a week or so before you will be planting. The plastic will absorb the suns rays and heat the soil. Whatever you do, let that soil warm up!
Use A Post Hole Digger To Create The Perfect Planting Hole
This has been a trick of ours for years, and works like a charm. When we plant tomatoes, we use a post hole digger to create all of our transplant holes.
Not only is it fast, but it makes an 8 to 10″ deep, extra-wide planting hole. The hole can be filled with the perfect soil mix to provide nutrients to the growing plant.
The wider hole also allows for the roots of the transplants to expand quickly in loose soil.
Put Tomato Supports In Before You Plant
This is a big one! We put our Tomato supports in before we plant, but after we first dig the holes with the post hole digger.
Why? Putting them in later can disturb the tomatoes root system, and it requires foot work around the base of the root zone.
That foot traffic compacts the soil and roots, which can hinder plant growth. The less you tramp around the root zone of your plants – the better they perform.
Why after we dig the holes first? Because it’s easier to dig without the support in the way!
And if you are looking for a great homemade way to stake your tomatoes and peppers this year – be sure to see our article on how to make your very own inexpensive tomato supports : (See: Stake-A-Cage Tomato Supports)
Mix In The Success Soil
Now that you have that perfect planting hole, fill it up with an incredible soil mix. We fill our planting holes with an equal mixture of compost and garden soil – with a few extra organic ingredients added in. It simply works magic on our plants.
In addition to the soil and compost, we crush a few eggs shells, and add in a tablespoon of spent coffee grounds along with a couple of tablespoons of worm castings.
The eggs shells break down and add calcium to the soil, helping prevent black rot and blossom rot. The coffee grounds and worm castings are powerful fertilizers, that release their nutrients back to the plants as they grow.
It is a mixture our tomatoes thrive on! The worm castings are truly the star – if you have never tried them – do so this year – they work! Product link : Worm Castings
Plant Deep and Spread The Roots
We plant our tomato transplants on the deep side, it protects roots and keeps them from drying out too quickly. We fill the bottom 2 to 3″ of the planting hole with our soil mix.
Next, we gently break apart the roots that have balled up around the transplant. Nothing too crazy, just a quick flip our fingers to break them out of their circular or square pattern.
This is an important step, as it allows plants to keep from getting root bound.
Next, we place transplants on top of the 2 to 3″ of soil cushion, and fill around the plant with the soil mix.
On top we add in a few more tablespoons of worm castings, egg shells and coffee grounds. These will decay slowly and provide more nutrients to the soil as the plants grow.
Mulch and Water!
Mulch is the final key, and a big one! It not only keeps out competing weeds, but mulch provides insulation to the tomato plant’s root zone. That helps keep the soil temperature and moisture levels regulated on both cool evenings and hot days.
We use a 1″ to 2″ thick mulching of compost about 8″ in diameter around each plant. We then cover the rest of the area in straw, leaving no dirt at all exposed in our growing row. N
o exposed dirt + no weeds. And that all helps lead to a great harvest, and one happy gardener!
Here is to a great tomato crop this year! Jim and Mary.
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