In Your Words: 9 Tomato Planting and Growing Tips to Try

These tomato tips from our readers combine folk wisdom with science and a little luck. Try them and see if they boost your harvest.

One popular trick is adding egg shells, or whole eggs, before planting, which can boost calcium content in the soil.

One popular trick is adding egg shells, or whole eggs, before planting, which can boost calcium content in the soil.

Last year, I shared a tip I’d learned from successful vegetable gardeners about planting tomatoes in deep holes or in trenches. This post received hundreds of reader comments with your own tricks, tips and hacks for planting and growing amazing tomatoes (thanks everyone for sharing!), so this year, I’m sharing a round-up of your ideas. Some I’ve tried before and can attest that they work, others I’ve heard of but never tried, and a few are totally new to me.

Plant Deeply

First, let’s talk again about that deep planting. Several of you gave this practice a thumbs up, though most preferred just to plant deeply instead of in trenches.

Dick Mattingly says: “For me, trenching is too much work — also takes up too much space. I’ve found deeper holes much easier — been planting ‘deep’ for years.”

And an unidentified reader has this extra tip: “The wife also likes to scratch or break the surface (ever so lightly) of the main stem of the tomato that goes under the ground. It helps promote root growth as I understand it.”

Anyone know why “the wife’s” trick would help?

Eggs and Coffee

See the egg there below the tomato transplant?

See the egg there below the tomato transplant?

Jenn Raven says: “Every Sunday after breakfast, I take my egg shells and coffee grinds and put it in the blender and make a slurry then feed my roses and tomato plants!”

Jenn’s practice is a good one — coffee grounds can contribute nitrogen to soil and repel slugs and snails (as this Oregon study shows), and egg shells add calcium, helping tomato plants regulate moisture intake and prevent blossom end rot.

I like to follow an old-timer tradition of planting a raw egg directly in the hole with the tomato. This is a form of direct composting, where materials break down and contribute nutrients directly in the soil. This year, I planted two tomatoes with an egg in the hole, two without, and I’m going to see if the egg appears to make a difference.

Add Epsom Salt

Epsom salt should only be added if a soil test shows you have a magnesium deficiency.

Epsom salt should only be added if a soil test shows you have a magnesium deficiency.

 Epsom salt was a hot topic on the previous tomato planting post. And it’s a hot topic among scientists as well. While gardeners have sworn by the practice of fertilizing with Epsom salt, which contains magnesium, for generations, there’s little scientific evidence that it works. And in fact, it can rob the plants of calcium. So it’s best to only use Epsom salt if a soil test says you’re low on magnesium. Still …

Laurel Ridge says: “I grow HUGE tomatoes and share with all the neighbors. My secret: Epsom salts. Every couple of weeks I throw a handful around the bottom of each plant. It helps the plants absorb the nutrients in the soil. I had heirloom plants over 8 feet tall, and cherry tomatoes producing more tomatoes than we could handle.”

And Daniel says: “For great tomatoes and peppers, about once a month put some Epsom salt around the plants. You will have more tomatoes and peppers than you know what to do with.”

Jerry Lovelace has a special recipe that combines all three tips from above: “I take 12 cups of worm casting, 1 cup of Epsom salt, 1/4 cup of baking soda, 12 egg shells (ground-up). Mix all together. 12 tomatoes plants, 1 cup per plant, take off 3/4 of leaves, plant side ways about 5 inches deep. Put one cup on each stem. My tomatoes plants gets about 9 feet tall.”

(Again, it’s best to get a soil test first before starting this practice.)

Go Fish

Now, I have heard of planting a fish in the hole with your vegetables before, but I haven’t tried it. It’s known to be a traditional American Indian practice of direct composting.

Joel says: “18 – 24″ deep hole, 1 large salmon carcass (fillets only removed, leaves head, tail, spine and excess meat), two handfuls bone meal, gallon or so worm castings mixed in soil to fill, couple handfuls of vegetable fertilizer (Gardner and Bloome is good), plant deep as described above. Give foliar feeding of worm casting tea every week or so for feeding.”

Anyone other than Joel tried the go-fish method?

Cow Power

Cow manure compost is commonly available at your local garden center, and I definitely can back up this nutrient-packed practice. If you have a local source, that’s even better.

MaryAnn says: “We were taught by an old farmer in Vermont how to grow huge tomatoes. Dig a deep hole, put in some fertilizer (cow manure) or what ever you choose, 2 big handfuls of sawdust, more soil and then your tomato plant. We had the biggest tomatoes I ever saw. The sawdust stays moist even when there is no rain, so the plants still blossom and you get huge tomatoes.”

I’ve never heard the bit about the sawdust before. Anyone know why this works?

Water Smartly

Drip irrigation gets water to the roots, where it's needed most.

Drip irrigation gets water to the roots, where it's needed most.

We all know that tomatoes and other vegetables need regular watering. Here are some techniques for getting that water on the cheap.

Ken’s advice: “Irrigate your tomatoes with the water from air conditioner drain. I added a PVC pipe to get the plant away from the AC. Just add a little fertilizer one plant will feed the whole family. You will need a post to fasten the plant to it will just keep growing until frost.”

Another unidentified reader has a smart recommendation: “I tried something that I think really helped. We had about 50 tomato plants in our garden and I put soaker hoses under each row. Put a timer on the water faucet and the water went straight the roots. Had a really good crop and had some plants that were 8′ or so tall. I staked them with horizontal slats screwed to uprights.”

And I agree with David Foster, who says: “Everyone should use a rain barrel … Free water.” Get instructions for installing an rain barrel.

100% Cotton

This one is totally news to me …

Brady says: “I go every year to a local cotton gin and get a load of gin trash to put in my garden. My tomatoes and okra love it. Last year they got about 7 feet tall.”

Some cursory research on my part shows that this is becoming a more widespread agricultural practice, making good use of a byproduct of cotton production. It holds soil in place as a mulch. Anyone else tried this?

Tomato + Potato

Also never heard of this one, but I’d love to try it.

Bonnie A recommends: “Core a quarter-size hole in a small to medium size potato and gently thread the roots of the tomato plant through the hole. Plant the tomato plant with 1/2 to 2/3 of it under the ground, as noted in the article, with the potato just above the root ball. When the tomato plants die at the first frost at the end of the season, you will be able to dig several nice size potatoes out with the spent tomato plant! They grow together perfectly well and you get two crops in the space for 1 plant! Have done this for years!”

Match Maker

And I am intrigued by this suggestion of planting matches in the hole with your tomatoes.

Edgar J says: “An old gardener that produced large tomatoes gave me this tip. He put a book of gopher matches at the bottom of each plant (pull the cover off first.) There is enough phosphorus in the matches for the plant.”

I still have no idea what a “gopher” match is (anyone, anyone?), but The Old Farmer’s Almanac corroborates Edgar’s story, at least for growing peppers. The decomposing matches add a touch of sulfur (rather than phosphorus) to the soil. Sounds worth a try.

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