Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How to get your tomato starts off on a strong foundation

The last few years I have only planted one tomato plant: a Sweet 100 or Sweet Million, whichever variety was available that year. This lone tomato plant had a prominent place among the all the planters on our backyard deck, trellised up against the privacy screen around the spa. With only one tomato plant to lavish my attention on, it grew to amazing proportions and continued to produce huge clusters of sweet mini cherry tomatoes until a hard frost would do it in. This is how I lay the foundation of my colossal tomato plant:

First start with healthy young plants. It's okay if they are leggy, but avoid the rootbound who are sure to have suffered stress from bouts of water deprivation. I usually only buy one plant, but the nursery had one plant in a 4" pot for $1.99 or a 4-pack for $1.29 and as my daughters expressed an interest in gardening on their apartment decks, I made the logical choice of more plants for less money!
Next start with a deep, but not necessarily oversized pot, as this is a transition home. Add an inch or two of good soil. Having just had 6 yards of 5-way mix delivered by dump truck to our driveway, I had lots on hand!
Now here's the hard part: Cut off all branches up to the last two sets of leaves. Use a clean, sharp pair of scissors or garden snips as you want a clean cut, not a tear that might wound the stalk.
Next take the rootball and place it on it's side against the soil, bending the stalk gently upward to center the stalk in the pot.

Next surround the stalk with the soil, gently tamping in place, up to the remaining set of leaves, hopefully not too far above the top of your container.

Tomato plants will send out roots all along the buried stem which will result in more roots and stronger growth. Having more roots allows the plant to take up water in a more even way, helping to avoid the stress brought on by drought-to-flood situations common to plants in deck planters.
I will repeat this process a time or two into successively deeper pots until I have their final destination prepped and ready, at which time I will repeat the process, leaving only 2 sets of leaves above the soil.
Don't be afraid to snip off any early blossoms. I want the plants to first put down a good foundation of roots to support the abundance of fruit to follow, which will in turn produce better quality and quantity of the harvest!
Next, I watered thoroughly with tepid water from the house as it's still too cold outside and the water from the hose would be shocking to these beauties.
Finally, I placed the planted containers into a garbage bag lined laundry basket to bask in the warmth of my house and the warmth of the light coming through the sliding glass door onto the deck, until all danger of frost has passed.
I hope this primer will assist you in your gardening pursuits!

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