How to Plant a Tomato

Homegrown tomatoes, homegrown tomatoes, Wha’d life be without homegrown tomatoes, Only two things money can’t buy, That’s true love and homegrown tomatoes. ~lyrics from Guy Clark’s song Homegrown Tomatoes

Guy Clark’s Homegrown Tomato song sums up why every year, I have to grow tomatoes.

After all these years, I thought I was a bit of an expert, but then as Albert Einstein put it, “The more I learn, the more I realize how much I don’t know.” The internship with the Master Gardener program is keeping me humble. Use this WSU research-based planting advice to establish vigorous tomato plants. This technique is new and exciting for me, so I want to pass it on to you!

Digging a trench to bury the rootball and the stem of the tomato plant.

A tomato plant uses its roots to absorb all the water and nutrients needed for growth. The more roots the plant has, the healthier the plant. The healthier the plant, the bigger, more flavorful, and delicious tomatoes!

When shopping for a tomato plant, look for short and sturdy plants that are seven weeks from seeding. The container the tomato plant comes in contains it’s root ball and is merely the beginning of the rooting potential. When you plant, bury the root ball, AND also bury the stem of the tomato plant. Including the stem can double or triple the rooting potential of your plant!

WSU’s planting advice involves two different techniques. The first method is to dig a deep hole. Dig as deep as the plant is tall because you’re going to bury a full 2/3’s of your tomato plant. Remove the plant from the container so the roots will be in direct contact with the soil.

The other method is to dig a trench. I prefer the trench method since it’s easier to dig and the soil is warmer towards the top of the soil bed. The length of the trench is the length of rootball plus the length of the stem minus the top 1/3 of the plant. The depth is 6-4 inches angled with the deepest side for the root ball and then angles upwards to where the stem with leaves is above ground.

My tomato plant came from my Master Gardner friend Beth. She dug it up from her garden and transported it in this plastic tub. Using scissors I remove lower leaves along the stem.

You can also just pinch off those leaves with your fingers. Remember to keep the top 1/3 of the leaves on the plant!

It’s finished now that it looks like a palm tree! We’ll bury the stem, and where the leaves were growing will become roots.

Lay the tomato plant gently into the trench with the root ball going into the deepest side.

Carefully cover the rootball. Bury the stem as much as possible to the final 1/3 of the tomato plant.

Very gently bend the stem upwards. Be careful not to snap the stem as that would kill the plant. And don’t worry if the plant slants sideways. The stem will move upwards toward the sun and eventually, the plant will stand upright.

Gently pat the the soil in place and water.

I planted the tomato next to a trellis. I’ll tie the limbs to the trellis as the plant grows to support all of the increased foliage and fruit. OK fine, if I must, here are another two lines of the Homegrown Tomato song. “If I’s to change this life that I lead, I’d be Johnny Tomato Seed, Cause I know what this country needs, Homegrown tomatoes in every yard you see!”