Six Steps for Growing Great Tomatoes

Flourishing on the Vine by Simon Bull

TOMATO PLANTS are big, heavy feeders, so dig deep holes for them to be placed in. 

You’ve got to dig deep when it comes to tomatoes.  The Los Angeles Times asked Lucy Heyming, a certified master gardener in Riverside, to share her secrets to putting in tomato plants that will yield juicy, flavorful fruit. Here’s what she said:

1. Dig, and then dig some more.
Most vegetables should be planted in a hole about the size of the pots they come in. But not tomatoes. They’re big, heavy feeders, so plan on burying them deeper into the soil, so deep that part of the pruned stem — see No. 3 — is underground. This technique helps the plants develop a sturdy structure of roots, perfect for supporting hefty tomato plants.

2. Be selective.
Choose healthy plants. Dig your hole about 12 inches deep for each plant and work a handful of good fertilizer into the hole. (Heyming also likes to add a banana peel and the shells from one egg into the bottom of the hole to provide extra nutrients for the roots later in the season.)

3. Prune before you plant.
Cut off leaves on the lower half of the main stem. Much of this pruned stem will end up underground, if you follow Heyming’s “go deep” planting technique.

4. Be gentle.
Remove the plant from its pot and gently tease out the roots. You don’t want them to grow in a tight circle. Fanning out the roots will help develop a stronger root system, making for a healthier plant. Center the plant in the hole as you push in the dirt around it.

5. Well, well, well.
Pat the soil down gently to remove air pockets and use your fingers to create a little well for watering.

6. Pssst.
Want to keep pests away? Plant an onion start — you can find them at well stocked gardening stores — or some scallions on one side of your plant, and a little marigold on the other. Sounds strange, but Heyming swears by this potently aromatic one-two punch for fending off insects.

Credit: This article was originally published in the Saturday section of the Los Angeles Times.

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