How To Plant Tomatoes

How To Transplant Tomatoes

Tomatoes are by far the most popular vegetable (actually, it's a fruit) grown in home vegetable gardens.

There are many different ways of planting tomatoes and everyone has their own way. Many gardeners have certain rituals and techniques they use to plant tomatoes, and some even get down right religious about their methods.

There are no right or wrong ways to plant a tomato as long as the plant grows to become vigorous and productive – that's the point of planting them in the first place, right?

Let's get started!

First, I want to discuss a bit about what I use when planting tomatoes.

What You Need To Plant a Tomato Plant

Supplies for Transplanting Tomatoes

In the picture above, I have the bare essentials I use to plant tomatoes into my vegetable garden.

The first item on the left is Tomato-tone Organic Fertilizer. Tomato-tone is an organic, granular fertilizer that is specially formulated for growing great tomatoes. It has an NPK rating of 3-4-6 and offers millions of beneficial microorganisms.

The second item from the left is a bag of all natural cotton balls. Make sure they are natural cotton and not synthetic. I'll get to the cotton balls later in the planting process. On top of the cotton balls is a pair of scissors.

Next, we have a watering bottle made from a 2-liter soda bottle, and the tomato seedling. This particular tomato I’m planting is a 'Mortgage Lifter' heirloom variety.

You will need something to dig the planting hole with. I like to use post hole diggers to dig the holes for transplanting tomatoes. Tomatoes need to be planted deep and the post hole diggers work perfect for digging a deep hole quickly.

Post Hole Diggers

Two items I use when planting tomatoes that is not pictured is fish emulsion and compost. Fish emulsion is a great natural fertilizer that will not burn plants. It has a terrible smell, but is well worth the stink. Compost is a superior soil amendment that adds organic matter to the soil.

Preparing The Planting Hole For The Tomato Plant

The first thing you need to do is determine where you will plant the tomato. Tomatoes need fertile soil with good drainage and plenty of sunlight; at least six to eight hours a day. Tomatoes should be spaced at least two feet apart to allow for maximize growth. Good spacing also helps to increase air circulation around the plants and reduces the risk of the spread of disease.

Once you have determined where your tomatoes will be planted, it is time to prepare the planting hole for the tomato transplant.

I use the post hole diggers to dig out a hole that is at least twelve to eighteen inches deep and about twelve inches wide.

Dig Hole for Tomato Transplant With Post Hole Diggerstomato planting hole

After I have finished digging a deep enough hole, I add two handfuls of compost to the bottom of the hole.

Add Compost To Tomato Transplant Hole

I then add a handful of Tomato-tone Organic Fertilizer to the bottom of the hole and mix it into the compost well.

Mix Compost and Tomato-tone Fertilizer in The Hole

Once the compost and fertilizer is incorporated well, it is time to add the cotton balls.

Take four or five of the natural cotton balls and gently pull them into a long strip. Then place the cotton strips down into the bottom of the hole. The cotton will absorb water and help to keep the roots of the tomato transplant nice and moist until it becomes well established.

Pull Cotton Balls Into Stripsplace cotton strips into planting hole

You can also add other useful items to the planting hole such as crushed egg shells, garden lime, pet and human hair, and even vacuum cleaner fluff. For many more useful items that are beneficial for growing tomatoes, please read – Eight Unusual Items For Fertilizing Tomatoes.

Planting The Tomato Plant

Now the planting hole is ready for the tomato plant.

Carefully remove the tomato plant from the pot, teasing the roots a bit if the plant has become root bound. Root bound is when the roots of the plant look like a big knot from being in the restrictive pot. Just take your hands and gently separate the roots at the bottom a little. They don’t need much, just a slight separation.

Place the tomato transplant into the center of the planting hole.

Set Tomato Transplant Into Hole

You want to plant the tomato deep, so only the first two sets of leaves are sticking above the soil. As you can see in the picture above, the tomato plant will be planted much deeper than it was in the pot.

With the tomato sitting in the planting hole, take the scissors and trim off any limbs that are below or at the soil level. Trim the limbs off at the stem, but avoid cutting into the stem itself. Allow the cut off limbs to fall into the planting hole. The limbs will help add organic matter to the soil as they decompose.

Trim Off Tomato Plant Limbs That Will Be Below Soil LevelAdd Trimmed Tomato Plant Limbs To The Hole

Adding The Watering Bottle To The Planting Hole

Use your hand, or a garden trowel, and dig a small trench on one side of the planting hole for the watering bottle.

Dig Small Trench for Watering Bottle

Place the watering bottle in the trench with the lid pointing towards the roots of the tomato plant.

Place Watering Bottle In Trench

Finish Planting The Tomato Plant

With the watering bottle added to the planting hole, it is now time to cover the planting hole with soil and complete the planting of the tomato.

Take your hand and carefully rake the soil from the planting hole around the tomato plant. You can also use compost or potting soil to create a small hill around the tomato plant.

Cover The Transplanting Hole With Soil

Make sure to pack soil around the watering bottle to keep it in place. You want the bottle to be at a 30° to 45° angle and about one to two inches or more above the soil to keep debris out.

Tomato Transplant Covered With Soil

Once you are finished covering the tomato plant with soil or compost, it is time to add the tomato stake (or tomato cage, if you prefer) and a three to five inch layer of mulch. I like using straw because it’s inexpensive, easy to move, and it breaks down easily, adding organic matter to the soil.

Add Mulch Around Tomato Plant

The last task for planting the tomato plant is watering it thoroughly and adding compost tea, or water, to the watering bottle.

Water The Newly Transplanted Tomato Plant

That’s it! You're tomato seedling is now planted into the vegetable garden and is off to a great start!

Please share how you plant your tomatoes!

Get Your Tomatoes Started Right!

8 Comments on How To Plant Tomatoes

  1. Cool website. Definitely will use for research in the future and nice photographic step by step guide.

  2. lonnie vaughan // June 13, 2010 at 1:29 pm // Reply

    Enjoyed the illustrated instructions on tomato planting. I’ve always had a problem with Fusarium wilt and while looking at another site on growing your own transplants, the author stated he cuts off the bottom 1/3 of limbs from plants about two weeks before he transplants and this allows the wounds to heal over before coming in contact with the garden soil and permitting bacteria to attack the plant. It dawned on me that I always cut the bottom limbs off at the time of planting and immediately place the wounded tomato plant in direct contact with the soil. What do you think of this theory? Is there a way to treat the wounds at the time of planting or should we not plant as deep or maybe trim the lower limbs off and waiting for them to heal over before putting them into the soil? I don’t know the answer so this is more a question than a comment.

  3. I didn’t see where you added the fish emulsion in the article…would you ad that via the 2 litre bottle or add it directly to the planting hole?

    • Hi Lisa – Normally I just water the tomato plant with the diluted fish emulsion after I finish planting it. You can add a little fish emulsion directly to the hole just before setting the plant in. The only thing about doing this is you may need to go back the next day and add a bit of soil around the plant once the water/fish emulsion mix settles some.

      You can also add the mix to the 2-liter bottle if you like. It’s really comes down to personal preference and what works best for you. There is no right or wrong method for watering with the fish emulsion, and I don’t think one is better than the other.

  4. Why the bottle?

    • Hu Chamki – the bottle is used for watering the plant roots. It is not a requirement, but just a convenient method for easily watering your plants.

  5. I start my tomato plants in quart milk cartons and placed in a wheel barrow with a hole drilled in the bottom for drainage, so I can wheel them into the garage overnight. For planting I dig a trench and bury them flat with the stem bent upright, first I mix steer or chicken manure with the removed dirt and bury the roots mass in that, next I take a tin can from recycle about 30 ounce size and place it over the root mass pushed down a bit. I mix my fertilizer and sometime Epsom Salts with water and pour the required amount into the can which goes directly to the roots. Extra water can be added to wash down the fertilizer.

  6. tks for the great info on compost tea…….how often do you water the tomato plant and do you use the tea everytime you water? tks for your help

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