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Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Sideways glance: One way to plant tomatoes

By Jennifer

Quick! Raise your hand. Straight up! From shoulder to fingertips.

OK, now lower your elbow and make an L. Is your hand still raised, fingers still pointing up?
You betcha. And what's more, you've just demonstrated how I planted my tomatoes: Sideways.
My tomato seedlings this year grew extremely leggy. It wasn't really my plan. I started them indoors under lights in their little black plastic pots, then dutifully rotated them to the patio to harden off before advancing to the garden. In a fit of energy I took apart my light rack and put it away. That was before a day of cold, dark, wet yuckiness.

I brought the seedlings back inside, thinking the sun'll come out tomorrow -- no need to set up the grow lights again. No such luck. The cold day lasted more than a week, and the indoor hostages grew gangly stretching to find light.

Actually, I think these tomatoes may be stronger for it. When it finally warmed up and dried out somewhat, I introduced the tomatoes to the garden. For each I dug a hole about 8 inches deep and set the plant in on its side. Think of the root ball as your shoulder in our earlier exercise. Your tomato plant arm is outstretched. Holding the plant mid-stalk, I carefully made an elbow and held the plant upright as I filled the hole with dirt, bringing the soil level to about an inch below the lowest leaf. Most of my tomatoes were longer from shoulder to elbow (the horizontal section) than raised forearm.
Here's a close-up of a tomato stalk. 

See all those little bumps? Those are root buds. This plant had seven inches worth. By burying so much of the stalk sideways in the ground, I've given my tomato plants a chance to develop incredibly strong root structures. This will pay off later in their ability to withstand wind and water stress. I hope they will grow as eagerly as a know-it-all student. "Pick me, pick me!"
What are some of your planting tips?

14 comments:

Meg@MegaCrafty said...

Great tip. I had some leggy broccoli seedlings that I didn't even bother putting into the garden, I wonder if this would have worked for them.

MAYBELLINE said...

Don't set yourself up for disappointment. Grow plants that have a proven track record in your area. Who has time to "baby" a fragile plant.
No sissies in my garden! (If there are - they are in the compost heap.)

Mike said...

No "sissies" in the garden, I love it.

Alexis E. said...

This is a really good tip, and one I did not think of. This year is a big experiment in our yard. Next year i'm definitely going to incorporate some new techniques and ideas like this one!

Alice said...

I always pinch the lower leaves off of my tomatoes and peppers, then plant them really deep, same idea as sideways, just going straight down.

Tonja said...

That's a great idea. I never would have thought to plant them sideways. I do what Alice does and pinch off the lower leaves and plant them deep down.

Hippie Girl said...

I always wondered what those little bumps were! I am excited to try this!
Where I am, we always have a problem with insects and bugs.
My helpful tip; Last year, I put out 3 feeders and a bird bath near my gardens, and by keeping it full, the birds stayed around and ate most of the insects too! Pretty and practical!

Manuela@A Cultivated Nest said...

I did both this year. I planted some tomatoes sideways and some really deep. We'll see how they do - right now it's pretty even.

Red Hill General Store said...

Awesome tomato tip. Will definitely have to keep that in mind.

doglady said...

I've always planted leggy seedlings laying down. They take off and grow very strong plants with lots of tomatoes.

David said...

Jennifer, that's actually a great way to start a tomato plant. The root system will be much stronger and the plant will become the pride of the tomato plants. Those extra roots in the beginning of a tomato plants life will produce a healthier and more productive plant later in the season. Heirloom plants are a lot more resilient than we think. The genetically modified hybrids .... not so much. My favorite tomato plant is regular old Rutgers. What's yours?

Have a great tomato planting day.

Jennifer said...

David, I also like Rutgers a lot. This year I have Roma, Rutgers and Brandywine -- my absolute favorite, but with the longest period before harvest. Still, it's worth the wait. I also like cherry and yellow pear tomatoes.

Maybelline -- so true, so true. Anything that goes in my yard has to earn its keep. No coddling allowed!

Candace said...

Hi, I've been doing this for years and it really works well. Even with plants that are not leggy - remove the bottom leaves and plant so a good portion of the stalk is underground. Strong plants and great top growth. Thanks for sharing this tip!

Anonymous said...

I planted my Manitoba Beefsteak sideways last year. I removed most of the lower leaves off a 6 inch store bought plant, leaving only the crown to bend above the soil. It was the first time I'd tried it. Result.... it was as sturdy as a tree, no need to cage or stake it. I have pictures to prove that the plant had 93 tomatoes at one time. I've never seen anything like it. This year I have planted all my tomatoes sideways.