So apparently I’ve been planting tomatoes wrong for the past 15 years. *gasp!* During a recent conversation with my granddaddy, he told me to plant tomatoes in trenches for better growth. “But how is it better?”, I asked.
It’s pretty simple so in today’s garden journal, I’m going to share with you a little bit of his wisdom (and it’s nothing short of genius!). This post contains an Amazon affiliate link to my favorite gardening gloves .
This is our first year growing on this land – and since no one else has lived here in ages – the trees have really grown up around the garden area. Vic has cleaned out most of the undergrowth and the only thing that’s left are the trees that are literally growing ON the fence. I took this photo around 4:30pm and you can see that most of the garden is in the shade. This has to be taken care of soon because tomatoes need at least 8 hours of direct sunlight.
I was surprised that the actual soil isn’t 100% red clay like it is up around the house. Thankfully the garden plot is down in the bottom towards one of the back creeks and is where the topsoil has been washed for years and years. It’s still got a good amount of clay, but it drains well and the pH is on point.
*Hopefully* one day we’ll be able to save up enough money to get a tractor so that our garden can be even bigger!
How to Plant Tomatoes in Trenches
When a tomato is planted, roots will grow all along any portion of the stem that’s in the ground. If this part of the plant is allowed to grow sideways, like in a trench, this will enable way more roots to take hold of the soil. This method essentially doubles the roots and results in a stronger, more productive plant!
We get some torrential storms here in the south and I have had a few tomato plants blow over in the past because I didn’t plant tomatoes in trenches!
My granddaddy also told me that this method allows more roots to take up water and nutrients that may be further away from the stem and closer to the surface of the soil (ex. top dressings/nutrients that may be added later on).
Once you’ve decided your seedlings are ready to be planted, set them out on their sides a day or two before you want to actually plant the tomatoes.
Laying them on their side allows the tops of the tomato plants to reach for the sun and prepares them for the trench. By doing this, there’s no worry that the stem will snap in two! You’ll want to remove all of the lower leaves and keep at least 2-4 of them on the top of the plant to allow for photosynthesis.
I went ahead and made my trenches about 4-6″ deep (this is according to what I read online). There’s something so therapeutic about getting down into the soil and working with your hands!
Side note: I’ve had these gloves for at least 5 years now and they are still in excellent shape. They are made by Atlas and you get 4 pair for less than $15. They are an awesome deal and I HIGHLY recommend them. Check out my favorite gardening gloves HERE.
I grabbed what was left of my bag of vegetable compost (that I picked up on clearance!) and carried it down to the garden. I only had enough to add *this much* to each planting trench but hey, it’s better than nothing. Actually, I do have something and I’ll admit, I probably should have tested the soil after adding the truckload of manure from a few weeks ago.
One thing I do know is that the soil was completely depleted of any nutrients (thanks to a soil test) so it definitely won’t hurt.
I was also blessed recently in the clearance isle at Walmart when I stumbled across this bag of Espoma Organic Bio Tone Starter Plus. (It was hidden on the bottom shelf behind some unwanted cans of paint!) I think the regular price was around $17 and I got it for $3.50 (SCORE!) Espoma Starter Plus (4-3-3) helps increase root mass and helps plants get established fast. I recommend anything and everything from Espoma, they are an amazing company with excellent products. Espoma isn’t paying me to say this, I truly do love them! Check out their factory tour video on YouTube and you’ll see what I mean!
When you plant tomatoes in trenches, it’s important to work in a little of the fertilizer into the soil that’s surrounding the root ball. I mixed half of the fertilizer with the trench soil and the rest into the back fill. I gently broke apart the root ball just a little and placed it into the prepared planting hole.
The soil looks a bit wet and that’s because it is. I didn’t have enough daylight to take the photos the day before so I decided to wait. Then of course it just HAD to rain overnight. I knew I needed to get this plant in the ground (it had already been laying on its side for 4 days) so I decided to go ahead and plant it. I wouldn’t recommend planting your tomatoes when the ground is overly wet.
Fill in the hole with your amended soil.
Add your marker and water her in.
After only a few days, the roots have already began to grow along the horizontal stem! I didn’t want to pull away too much soil but here you can get an idea of how they are growing both horizontally and vertically! Since all of the roots are closer to the surface, any amendments that I add to the base of the plant have a better chance of being absorbed in also!
I found a few clumps of organic manure laying around from when we added it a month or so ago (before the tomatoes were planted) and placed it around the plant, careful not to touch the stem. I still need to get some straw (which is what I use for mulch) to help keep the weeds out and the moisture in.
Vic made me some stakes today out of cedar trees that he cleared off the fence. They will be used to string up the tomatoes with the Florida weave on the indeterminate varieties (vine) and the determinate varieties (bush) will get cages.
I’m not quite sure why the previous photos from my camera made all of the plants appear yellow, but this is more of what they really look like. I took this pic with my phone a few minutes after watering it in.
Hopefully we’ll have a successful year but I can’t help but be a little paranoid. I have never worked this soil so I have no idea how well it will do.
At this point, I’m handing the rest over to God!
Would you ever plant tomatoes in trenches or do you just stick it in a deep hole? Let me know in the comments below!