Planting TOO TALL Tomatoes

Try them sideways or in a well!

Ideally we plant tomatoes when they are about 6-8” tall.  However, sometimes the weather has other plans and our transplants have to spend a little longer indoors.  No matter how leggy or floppy the tomatoes might get, by burying the stems, the ‘perfect’ height can be achieved.

Like their potato relatives, tomatoes have the ability to create roots from the stems.  By removing the leaves and burying the stems, a stronger root system can be developed.

While the stems are capable of forming roots, the leaves will only rot if buried.  Remove the lower leaves first.

DON’T do this with peppers or cucumbers — only tomatoes.

Dig a deep hole...

One option is dig a hole deep enough to accommodate the rootball and stem, such that 6-8” of the plant remains above the soil.  Roots will develop off of the buried stem segment, helping to create an extensive network under the soil.

See also Planting in a Well.

OR

Plant the tomato sideways...

Another option is sometimes referred to as trenching.  Dig a shallow trench for the tomato such that it can be laid in sideways.  Don’t bend the stem too hard trying to force it to point upward.  As the plant grows, it will naturally reorient towards the light.

It’s helpful to use the stake to mark where the rootball was buried, as opposed to placing it next to where the plant emerges.  This helps prevent accidentally disturbing the roots later as the rest of the garden develops.

Tomatoes are cold tender and need protection until night time temperatures are in the 50s.  Get a headstart on your harvest by planting your tomatoes beneath the surface of the soil, which will help not only develop a strong root system, but also utilize the warmth of the earth for a little natural protection!  Be sure to still keep extra covering on hand for the cold nights!

Cut the bottom off of a 5gal nursery pot, then dig a hole large and deep enough to accommodate it.

Place the container inside the hole.  Gently tamp the soil inside and out, so that the level inside the container is lower than the soil surface.

Plant your tomato transplant inside the well!  Don’t forget to add any fertilizer or amendments.

As the tomato grows taller, continue to remove the lower leaves and fill the inner hole, whilst simultaneously pulling the container upward to match the height of the plant. Eventually, the inside soil level will match the outside and the container can be removed.