The Planting Hack Expert Gardeners Swear By For The Best Tomatoes

If you love tomatoes, it doesn't matter if they're red, gold, or green, everyone wants a bountiful harvest. So it's not surprising that a tomato-growing hack is getting a lot of buzz on blogs, articles, and garden center conversations — and it's all about encouraging strong root growth.

Gardeners have known for a long time that tomatoes like to be planted deep in the ground, but the word on the street (and on sites like the Tomato Bible) is that planting them very deeply –- even sideways or horizontally -– is the real secret to getting a super strong tomato plant. The key is to give the young tomatoes a chance to develop really robust root systems, and it's those roots that keep the plant firmly in the ground and also bring water and nutrients to the growing plant.

While putting the tomatoes into the ground askew so that the roots can grow all along the stem is going to give the plants a great start, remember that there are other important planting tips, such as amending the soil before you plant (compost is a good idea, but try a soil test first), giving the plants enough space, and placing tomato cages or other supports at planting time.

The special roots of the tomato plant

The clever little tomatoes have what are called adventitious roots. We think of roots as growing only at the bottom of a plant, and most often, that's true. But plants that have adventitious roots, like tomatoes, peppers, strawberries, and eggplants, can grow roots from other parts of the plant, most commonly from stem tissue or in places where the plant sustained some sort of wound.

Adventitious roots are the reason why the planting hack that expert gardeners, bloggers, and others swear by for the best tomatoes is horizontal or sideways planting after nearly stripping the seedlings bare. Each stripped pair of leaves creates a "wound" where more roots can secretly grow underground. In addition, the plant will quickly send out neophyte roots up and down the buried tomato stem.

You can actually see this happen if you plop a tomato stem in a glass of water, as shown in the video by Daisy Creek Farms with Jag Singh. Try it with a cutting from a tomato plant and watch the roots grow along the stem. The same thing happens underground in the moist soil.

Planting tomatoes in a container

If you plan to put your tomato seedlings in a container or raised bed, try the compass point trench planting method described by the Old Farmer's Almanac. Place the seedlings in a large dug-out area with the root balls all pointed toward the center, and the tops pointed toward the outside of the circle. You'll recall that tomatoes and their adventitious roots can grow roots all along the stems of the seedlings, so strip off the leaves of the plants, leaving only the top few sets. Bury each tomato plant up to the first pair of leaves, using your best planting techniques (pressing the plant stem into the ground gently but firmly, removing the air bubbles in the soil, and watering the plants thoroughly).

Your pot or container should be a big one to allow the tomato plant to stretch out, but if it doesn't seem large enough for the compass point trench planting method, you could still dig a deep vertical hole and drop in the stem.

It often feels wrong for gardeners to tear or snip off perfectly healthy leaves, but you don't want too much of the plant's energy reserves going into keeping the leaves nice and green rather than putting the energy into making the fruits. The goal is to get bushels of ripe, plump tomatoes, so help your tomato plants cooperate. After all, you gave them a really good start by letting them recline comfortably when they were first planted!