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The Best Way to Plant Tomatoes for a Bountiful Harvest

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Here’s how to plant tomatoes for the sturdiest plants, bar none. Give this method a try in your veggie garden this year, and you’ll have strong, abundant tomato plants.

Short on space? Try making this upside-down tomato planter!

cluster of red ripe tomatoes growing on a vine

Tomatoes are a staple for most gardeners and for the most part, they’re pretty easy to grow. They just don’t take a lot of extra work in most regions of the United States.

But you can really boost the sturdiness and root system of your tomato plants with this trick.

How to plant tomatoes: Dig deep

This method of planting tomatoes gives them a solid start, making for a sturdier and stronger plant.

With most other plants, you want to set the plant in the earth so that the soil level of the potted plant is at the same level as your garden soil. Tomato plants, however, like to be planted deeper than that.

If you’ve ever grown tomatoes, you know that their stems are very fleshy. Those stems will send out roots if they touch moist soil. Well guess what? If you were to bury those stems, the plant would send roots down into the soil.

You can see it happening on the seedling below. But even if there are no root buds visible, the tomato plant will send out little roots from that buried stem. This makes the plant much more stable in the ground and gives it more opportunities to pull up nutrients. Another benefit to planting tomatoes in this manner?

tomato seedling on its side, showing root ball and plant

Go ahead and dig a hole deep enough to allow the main stem to be buried at least up to the first set of leaves. If the tomato seedling has a lot of leaves protruding from the stem, all the way to the soil, pinch some off. The goal

That could mean a deep hole. Or it could mean letting the tomato lay on its side in the hole. If you opt for laying it sideways, the top of the tomato plant that is above ground will start growing straight up in just a few days’ time.

tomato seedling in a deep hole

A plant with a strong root system is much more able to withstand dry periods and prolonged droughtThis deep planting method is a great way to salvage tall, gangly seedlings. Simply trim off some of the lower leaves, and plant the tomato seedling in the ground all the way up to the lowest set of leaves.

tomato plant in soil

Consider deep watering

Tomatoes do well with a good deep watering followed by days of no water at all. This encourages the roots to work even more deeply into the soil, seeking out moisture. You can implement a deep watering technique like a traditional olla or a more modern copycat with a drainage pipe or even a nursery pot buried upright next to plants. Instead of watering at the surface, water into the pipe or pot so the water goes straight to the roots of the tomato plant.

tomatoes growing on a plant

Do you need to prune tomatoes?

First, let’s be clear. We’re all busy. If you don’t have time to add “prune tomatoes” to your to-do list, carry on. It’s not a mandatory chore for growing tomato plants. That said, I do prune my tomatoes. Here’s why:

  • Pruning out excess foliage allows for better air circulation, helping to prevent disease. (I live in an area prone to powdery mildew.)
  • Less foliage makes it easier to spot insect invaders. In particular, I battle tree leafhoppers. If I can see them, I can remove them by hand.
  • Spotting ripe tomatoes is easier when the plants are opened up by pruning.
tomato harvest in baskets on a table with canned goods

Now, am I going to tell you how to prune tomatoes? No I am not. Because it turns out, I’ve been doing it wrong all these years.

I’ve always pruned out some of those big, floppy leaves that don’t make fruit but pack the tomato cage with lots of greenery. Turns out, folks in the know say I should be pruning off the suckers instead. Doing this, they say, makes for an earlier crop of larger and healthier tomatoes.

I’ve been pruning my tomatoes incorrectly for roughly twenty years.

My overflowing abundance of tomatoes during my California years (shown above) makes me think my pruning method hasn’t impacted production from my tomato plants.

Do you grow tomatoes and have an abundant harvest? You’ll want to these fried green tomatoes or give canning tomatoes a try! I recommend this salsa recipe.

This post was originally published in May, 2011 and has been updated. 

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Meet the Author

Kris Bordessa

Kris Bordessa founded Attainable Sustainable as a resource for revitalizing vintage skills. Her book, Attainable Sustainable: The Lost Art of Self-Reliant Living (National Geographic) offers a collection of projects and recipes to help readers who are working their way to a more fulfilling DIY lifestyle.

21 comments… add one
  • Melanie @ Frugal Kiwi May 24, 2011, 4:45 pm

    Watch it there Dolby, you are blinding me with science!

    • Kris Bordessa May 24, 2011, 7:18 pm

      Did you like that? Almost like a Power Point presentation, there with graphics and everything. 😉

      • Jamie Brown Sep 18, 2019, 6:33 am

        Ya I never knew I could do that even with a small back yard

  • Roxanne @ Champion of My Heart May 25, 2011, 8:16 am

    We’re still monitoring overnight temperatures in the greenhouse. So, no seeds yet, no plants yet. :o(

  • sarah henry May 26, 2011, 4:36 am

    Good to know, might explain why my starts this year, well, stopped. Will try again.

  • Christine Alatorre Apr 23, 2017, 12:07 pm

    love gardening help 🙂

  • Marlene Purdue May 25, 2017, 12:44 pm

    I have heard it is good to put a tablespoon of epsoms salt in the hole before putting in the plant. Is this correct? What does it do for the plant?

    • Kris Bordessa May 27, 2017, 3:09 pm

      It adds magnesium to the soil.

  • Melanie Salikin Jun 17, 2017, 12:35 pm

    I love the suggestion to lay them horizontal then bury them.. Often times we have gangly tomatoes.. this will be wonderful to try.. thank you so much xo

  • Saroja devi vijayan Jul 12, 2017, 6:53 pm

    My tomato saplings are decaying from the root and it will die within two or three days,what’s the reason for this.

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 4, 2017, 8:23 am

      Too wet, maybe?

  • Helga Newsom Jul 20, 2017, 5:21 am

    Thank you for your info. I did not plant the tomatoes the way you do, but I will do it next year. There are so many suggestions on “how to” for tomatoes, I picked out the suckers, I have green tomatoes, getting ready to turn red. Question: I found 2 “tomatoe worms” one day, 2 more next, I picked them up and killed them, they did the job on 3 plants! We live in Ohio, what do you recommend?

    • Kris Bordessa Aug 4, 2017, 8:18 am

      All I’ve ever done is handpick. They usually appear about midsummer, so I keep my eyes open for their droppings and find them before they do too much damage.

      • SUZANNE Feb 26, 2020, 6:35 pm

        By the way, if you have chickens, they LOVE the worms. When my kids were small they helped me in the garden. Their main job was to handpick the worms from the tomatoes, drop them into a can and then empty the can into the chicken’s yard. They always made a B-line to the dump spot!

    • Elaine Susan Anderson Jul 2, 2019, 5:23 pm

      Plant marigolds with your tomatoes and you’ll never see another tomato worm. It’s amazing!

  • upendra kumar Sharma Dec 12, 2017, 4:05 pm

    Very good information. Thanks.

  • Seminte de Rosii Mar 13, 2018, 10:55 pm

    Yes, you need to prune tomatoes, but only indeterminate types. Regarding determinate tomatoes, you should avoid pruning, with the exception of those 1-2 leaves that reach the ground.

  • Jane Jun 15, 2019, 1:14 pm

    Don’t forget some compost in rural areas may have a herbicide residue. Many are broad leaf. We’ve had trouble with one brand wainting in 5 year old manure. Will take a tomato down in days. Hope its not the case.

  • Jamie Brown Sep 18, 2019, 6:37 am

    My tomatoes are falling over eben in the cage. What is the reasoning for this?

    • Kris Bordessa Sep 20, 2019, 12:44 pm

      Tomatoes (the indeterminate kind) tend to get quite leggy!

  • TheFifty9 Jul 21, 2020, 5:26 pm

    So helpful. Glad we found your how-to through Pinterest. We cannot wait to get our hands dirty and start growing our first tomatoes.

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