by William Moss
Tomatoes are the most popular homegrown fruit in America. Their high yield and easy maintenance have made them a favorite crop worldwide.
Tomatoes have a special feature left over from their wild origins as a perennial South American vine. They can form adventitious roots along their stem. Unlike most other plants, it does not damage tomatoes to have their stems placed underground. In fact, it helps create more roots, which provide more nutrients and better support. Many gardeners use this info when planting tomatoes in spring. Tomato plants grown in flats are typically long and leggy. Standard planting (only the rootball in the soil) leaves them floppy and scraggily looking. Instead pinch off any lower leaves and dig a much deeper hole. Put the rootball and stem down into the hole up until the point where there is bushy growth.
This anchors the plants in more firmly and looks better aesthetically. The deeper planted tomatoes have more roots and start the season stronger and bushier than their rootball-only planted counterparts. For really elongated plants, gardeners can dig a trench. Digging 18” down can be difficult, so instead dig an 8” trench and lay the tomato on its side. Be sure to remove any leaves that are in the soil. Stem and roots are the only parts approved for underground growth. The trench method can turn some lanky, pitiful plants into bushy, verdant crops.
Regardless of the planting method, indeterminate tomatoes will need staking/caging during the season. It is not necessary to stake the seedlings when you plant. However, you want to have support in place before the tomato needs it. That way you avoid damaging the plant as you struggle to put a tomato cage around the rampant beast.
Tomatoes are easy, delicious, and nutritious. With a few simple steps gardeners will have plenty for cooking and sharing.
William Moss, landscape architect on TLC's Town Haul, found his calling after taking a master gardener course in 1996. William's first gardening-related job was a supervisory position with the Chicago Department of the Environment. He immediately impacted the community by overseeing the installation of gardens citywide. In the spring of 1998, Moss moved his expertise to the Chicago Botanic Garden's Community Gardening department, where he continued to make a difference within Chicago communities by installing more gardens and teaching home gardening classes. Visit William at: http://www.wemoss.org/
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