When it comes to planting tomatoes outdoors – ideally you’ll put them into full sun in a fertile, well-drained, great gardening soil that only exists in our gardener’s imaginations.
Give them as much compost as you can.
Tomatoes want full sunlight – a minimum of eight full hours a day. If you reduce this light, then you’ll reduce your yield. There’s no cheating – you either give this plant the light it wants or it won’t give you the harvest you want.
Tomatoes In The Shade?
Having said that, it is possible to cheat a little bit and still get a decent harvest.
If you have a garden without full hot sunshine but with “close counts”, then find the earliest tomato seeds or plants you can.
Because they are genetically suited to mature earlier and they require fewer heat units to mature the fruit, they will mature fruit in gardens with fewer hours of sunshine.
But they will do so at the same time as the later plants that are living in full sunshine conditions.
Do not try to grow a late season tomato in a shade location. It will not ripen the fruit.
Many gardeners plant their tomatoes so all the stem is showing. These plants are often whipped about in wind or rain storms and the stress on the tender stem is considerable.
After planting, you only want to see 4-6 inches of plant above the ground.
If the plant is 12 inches tall, I want you to bury the stem in the ground so only 4-6 inches is showing.
Remove the leaves that will be below the soil line before you plant. In my trials, this wasn’t necessary but it may increase early stem rooting from the damaged areas.
It is often easier to dig a trench and lay the plant down in the trench and when you backfill, only leave the top 4-6 inches showing.
The stem will quickly root and while it may seem strange, the buried plant will quickly outgrow a more traditionally planted one as those extra roots begin to feed the top growth.
This is particularly important if your seedling soil is an artificial soil. These soils dry out very quickly and must be kept damp if the roots are to outgrow that small soil cell. Bury all traces of the artificial soil so it is kept damp by the surrounding soil.
How Far Apart
If you’re growing with cages or on the ground, you plant 36-inches (1 metre) apart. This gives you the most amount of fruit per plant.
If you’re growing on stakes – you plant 12-18 inches apart (30-38 cm) apart and the rows should be 30-36 inches (75 cm – 1m) apart. This gives you the most amount of fruit per square foot (in other words, in a small garden, you stake up rather than grow out).
Planting for Staking
Planting for Cages
It’s exactly the same planting system. That is:
- You only leave 6-inches of stem above ground.
- You can remove the leaves on the stem below this 6-inch mark if it makes you feel better. It’s optional.
- The stem that’s buried will root. And by only leaving 6-inches above ground, the plant will not blow around and get wind-whipped.
- After the plant is in the ground, then you install the cage around the plant.
- I drive a stake or length of rebar next to my cages and tie the cage to the stake to insure it won’t tip over in a wind.
- I then put the mulch around the cage but tend to leave the soil around the tomato bare (slugs will live under the mulch but will “tend” to not cross the bare ground when they have so much food under the mulch. (yeah, they still will but it seems to me damage is reduced)
- I can also wrap clear plastic or my favorite – frost fabric – around the cages.
Frost fabric held on with bungee cords. You can use anything you like – from string to old belts or ?? Just don’t tape as you want to reuse this material for several years. Doing this really prevents wind damage and extremes in heat and cold. I leave on until I’m sure there are no more cool nights. It’s a great way to get even more great tomatoes earlier.