I want to preface this post by saying that the technique I’m going to describe is by no means the only way to properly plant tomatoes. It’s a method we at Seedlings Gardening prefer because it works really well and will usually keep the tomato plants strong and disease free throughout the entire season.
Specific planting location
If you have a tree or any shade structure on the west side of your garden, then we recommend situating your tomatoes near that spot so the plants get at least 6 hours of strong morning sun and plenty of afternoon shade. It’s the perfect recipe for high yielding, happy tomato plants.
Gardeners typically want to plant tomatoes as soon as possible. A good rule of thumb states that tomato plants won’t set fruit when day temperatures are above 93 degrees and night temps are in the mid 70s; though, some varieties are slightly more heat tolerant. You’ll still get fruit but the plant won’t be making any more fruit once it’s that hot outside (i.e. the plant might blossom, but the blooms won’t turn into those first little baby green tomatoes).
When choosing tomato plants check how many days it takes them to harvest or bloom – some take 100 days, some take 70 – and calculate what the temperature will be like, for example, 100 days from the day you’ll plant. I like to plant a good mix of heat tolerant, high yielding plants that usually give off a smaller fruit along with some that might produce less tomatoes but they’re big and juicy! Our favorite varieties are Juliet, Sungold, Green Zebra, Garden Peach and Indigo Rose.
OK! Now, on to planting!
Here’s list of supplies you’ll need:
- blood meal (a strong nitrogen fertilizer)
- alfalfa meal (fertilizer)
- weed fabric
- small tomato cages
- large tomato cages – these should be 5 ft. tall and the holes between the wires need to be at least 4”x4”. It’s difficult to find ones this large at big box stores so we make our own out of concrete wire mesh and it measures 5 ft tall and 2 ½ ft diameter.
- hand pruners
- 3 or 5 gallon pots – (as many pots as tomato plants) the plastic black ones that come with nursery plants. Nurseries usually have extra that they’ll give you for free if you ask.
Steps to follow (assuming you’ve already prepped your soil):
- Move mulch off the bed – again, we put it on a tarp to keep it all clean and in one place.
- Dig a hole that’s 10” deep.
- Drop a handful of alfalfa meal and large 4 finger pinch of blood meal into the bottom of the hole and put 3” of soil back in hole covering up the alfalfa and blood meal completely. These fertilizers are placed so deep because they’re really strong. If you put the tomato plant directly on them they’ll burn the roots. By the time the tomato roots reach the alfalfa and blood meal, the fertilizers will already be mixed into the surrounding soil and watered down.
- Using the hand pruners cut off all tomato leaves on the bottom 4” of the plant.
- Place the plant in the hole. The surface of the plant (where the stem meets the soil) should sit about 2” below the top of the hole. You can also follow the trench digging method here, especially if you’re working with a really long stem. We sometimes end up breaking the plants when bending them in the trench so we stopped doing it.
- Fill the hole with soil leaving a water well around the stem that’s about 1” deep and 12” in diameter. *See explanation in step 8..
- Wrap foil around the main stem of the plant (starting where the stem meets the soil to about 1 or 2 inches up the stem). We keep this on for about a month while plants are still young and fragile – the foil protects from cutworms.
- Put weed fabric down either rolling it out to cover a row of tomatoes, or if you only have one tomato plant cut it so its diameter is as wide as your large tomato cage.
- Cut an ‘x’ in the fabric that’s 4”x4” (or big enough to fit over the individual plant) and slip it over the plant. The fabric should sit on the ground. Tomatoes contract a lot of diseases from soil which, when it rains and when you water, splashes up on the plant. This technique prevents soil from doing just that.
- (This step isn’t necessary, especially if you’re starting a new garden) This year we’re watering all our tomatoes (and peppers) with Actinivate after planting. Last year, our tomatoes and peppers were diseased. We’re giving them another go in the same general area, so this should help eliminate any residual diseases/bacteria that are attracted to them.
- Cut the bottom out of the 3 or 5 gallon plastic pot and place it around the tomato so the tomato plant is protected on all sides but uncovered on top. The pot should stand about 1 ft tall so it’ll block the wind chill until temperatures are above 45 degrees at night.
- Place the small cage inside the plastic pot and around the tomato plant to guide it as it grows and keep the pot in place.
- When it’s time to remove the pot (when night temps are above 45 deg.) you can also remove the small cage and replace it with the large cage.
Have you ever used any of these techniques? What varieties of tomatoes are you planting?