Planting Tomatoes in the Ground with Photos

I disappeared from the blog while I planted my tomatoes, which was not a simple undertaking. I am thrilled to now have 31 tomato plants in the ground in the hoop house. My legs and feet ache from all the digging, partly due to an old injury and partly due to being out of practice with a shovel.

Preparations for Planting Tomatoes
The first digging was to get the Jerusalem artichokes out of the way. They are not really artichokes, but actually a member of the sunflower family with edible tubers. They liked the north wall of the hoop house and became so rampant I decided to dig them all out of there. I cannot have them encroaching on my precious tomatoes!

I dug four full five gallon buckets of tubers and still have a section in the corner to finish, probably another couple of buckets or so. I hauled in three wheelbarrow loads of compost to level the ground where I removed the tubers. I dug that into the ground.

Then I raked the dry grass clipping mulch off each row and spread shellfish fertilizer on the row. That had to be dug into the ground as well, simply to get rid of the odor so I could continue working. I spread the mulch back over the rows, which further reduced the odor.

All of my supplements for my high brix experiment were ready to use. I set up the aerator and began brewing a microbe tea. I tossed an aspirin in the mix to help activate the tomato plants resistance to cold nights since they will no longer be in the heated section of the hoop house.

I made little containers of the other ingredients, which included another microbe inocculant, the fertilizer to feed those microbes, another mostly organic environmentally friendly fertilizer for the plants themselves, gypsum, and bone meal. I would have used all gypsum but the nursery only had one small box, so I added bone meal to be sure I have enough calcium. I will add rock phosphate later.

I placed the containers at the end of the row where I intended to begin. Then I raked the mulch back off the row again.

Choosing and Arranging the Tomato Plants
Usually I have a carefully planned layout for my plants, putting the tall cherry tomatoes in the peak of the hoop house where they have the most room to grow and the slower plants on the shorter ends. This year I did manage to put the Sweet Million Cherry tomatoes in the center peak locations, but the rest was considerably more random.

The reason is I tried growing the plants 8 weeks from seeding instead of 6 weeks. The plants grew so large they gradually fell backwards off the bench, hanging down and doing mid air u-turns to grow back up. This made working behind the bench nearly impossible. The plants also tangled in an alarming manner.

Tomato Plants Falling Off Bench

This photo shows the plants on the bench prior to planting. The tall plants in the picture are actually the smaller plants that are two weeks younger. The nearer plants which appear smaller only look smaller because most of the plant is hanging off the back of the bench. You can click on the photo for a closer look.

Due to this difficulty the tomatoes mostly went in the ground in the order which I untangled them. Handling these large plants without breaking the stems took careful handling and perhaps a certain amount of luck.

I dug the first hole at the end of the row, putting the dirt in a large blue muck tub. The hole was fairly deep as I wanted to lay the root ball sideways and bury as much stem as practical without breakage.

The root ball was then covered with dirt from the next hole to the left, mixing in the additives from my prepared containers. I continued working my way down the row in that manner until the end, when the dirt in the blue muck tub was used to cover the last root ball.

Tomato Root Ball in Planting Hole

This photo shows the third tomato plant positioned in the hole. I roughly circled the base and plant label of the first two tomato plants so you can see more clearly how I was proceeding.

Training Tomato Plants on Strings
I allowed one sucker to grow on each plant so two main stems developed. I have two nylon strings hanging down from the ceiling for each plant so each stem will have a string to support it upright.

Tomatoes will not cling to the string unaided, but if you twine the string around the stem as it grows, the string will support it beautifully. A little slack is needed in the beginning as the stem will take it up as it gets larger.

Training Tomato Plants on Strings

This photo shows a tomato plant with its two main stems and the strings wound around them to support the plant upright. This allows for more efficient use of the greenhouse space and better air circulation at the same time.

First Row of Tomatoes

All nine plants in the first row are planted, mulched, and trained on their strings. The plants are a bit untidy due to the contortions created in their stems by falling off the bench and changing directions. The plants have not yet had time to rearrange their leaves to catch the sun in the normal way either.

You can see other strings in the foreground and background which do not yet have plants. In the far back is a row of peas with a casually tied nylon string trellis for the cucumbers which will grow there later. In the far left back corner are the remaining Jerusalem artichokes I still have to remove.

Completion of Planting and Foliar Spraying
After I finished the third row this morning, completing a total of 27 tomato plants, I photographed them. This evening I planted 4 more plants in another row and that finished the tomato planting for this year.

Three Rows of Tomato Plants

The mesh wire fencing in the back is nailed across the big double doors to keep my rascal of a puppy out of the hoop house when the doors are open. Cosmo is deliriously excited at the idea of digging and eagerly tries to help. He also regards plants as tug of war material. In short, he is totally unfit for the greenhouse at this time!

Once the plants were all in the ground, mulched, and on their strings, I filled my sprayer and applied the microbe tea to the plants. I also did a soil drench down each row with the tea.

It was terribly hot today, somewhere in the 80s, and the plants wilted a little in the afternoon. The hoop house was in the 90s, so they had every right to feel stressed. They probably will do that the next couple of days as they adjust to being in more direct sunlight. As soon as they get used to their new conditions, I expect serious growth. And, of course, those lovely red orbs that are the point of this whole exercise!

Related Articles: Growing Tomatoes in a Short Season Climate and Stages of Tomato Growth in Photos



Copyright © Lexi Sundell 2007. All Rights Reserved.

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13 thoughts on “Planting Tomatoes in the Ground with Photos

  1. Loren B. Cobb

    We live in Arizona, and have just started seedlings for march planting. It gets well over 100 degrees here, and I am doing as much research as I can to ensure my plant’s success. Your photos and narrative have been a great benefit to my learning curve. Just wanted to give a very sincere thanks for your contributions to the public domain.

  2. Lexi Sundell

    I am glad to be of help. I lived in the Phoenix area for about fourteen years and know exactly what you are talking about!

    I did find that the siberian tomatoes did well there, apparently cold resistance also made them heat resistant. But I did not care for the flavor.

    I wonder how you would do with Stupice? That is a Czechoslovakian tomato which is early, flavorful, and does not much like the cool damp conditions in my hoophouse in the fall. I have thought it might be good in the desert.

    If I covered the plants around New Years during the frost I could keep the tomato plants going for a couple of years. The difficulty is getting them to set fruit, since it is too cool at night or too hot in the daytime most of the year.

    Let me know how yours do!


  3. John Kozlich

    Arizona, Phoenix, give me a break, you should have tomatoes coming out your ears. Come join me north of the 49th parallel (thats in good old Canada) then you’ll have a real challenge. Still I am able to grow monster beef steak tomatoes, the likes you have never seen.

  4. Lexi Sundell

    Actually I grew more productive tomatoes, including great beefsteaks, when I lived in Canada than when I moved to Arizona and ran into the difficulties there.

    Arizona has temperatures that either are too hot in the daytime or too cold in the night for pollination to be effective, except for a short time in the fall and in the spring. I had two and three year old plants, but not many tomatoes.

    Montana has very cool nights at this high altitude and only a 90 day growing season so getting tomatoes to ripen is the challenge here unless you grow them in a hoop house like I do.

    So I don’t know what you think your problem is in Canada, I had excellent results in Ontario.

  5. Ron Howard

    I have never grown tomatos before but recently (July) planted to plants in an Earthbox we bought 10 years ago and never tried before now. We live north of Houston, TX and the summer is very hot. We followed the Earthbox instructions with 2 plants, one small one died and we replaced it wih a large one. They are Heatwave tomatos, suited to our hot climate. Maybe we started too late in the season? So far the 1st plant has about 4-5 blossoms. Is that a good sign? Our children used an Earthbox in California and grew giant tomatos for months and months, along with other veggies.

  6. Lexi Sundell

    For your climate July is quite late. However, you may get some fall tomatoes if the fruit will set at your hot daytime temps. Tomatoes set fruit when it is not too hot in the day or too cold at night, but your variety may be more tolerant of the heat.

    In any event, even if some blossoms don’t set fruit until it gets a little cooler, you should end up with some tomatoes if they have time to ripen before you get killing freezes.

    Next year I would start much earlier, check your last frost date in the spring and aim to have plants in the earthbox then.

    In Arizona I used to have two and three year old tomato plants but they only set fruit a couple of months in the spring and in the fall due to the drastic temperature fluctuations. I only had to protect them from freezing a few nights in early January to keep them going.

  7. Ron Howard

    My tomatoe plants have grown from about 8″ to 34″ tall and I have had to water several times a day, although the Earthbox says once a day should do. Not having grown tomatoes before I am wondering where the fruit appears on the plant, is it where the yellow blosoms bloom or somewhere else? I have quite a few blooms but haven’t seen fruit yet. I think I planted these in very late July. Is it too early for fruit?
    Thanks for your help.
    Ron Howard

  8. Lexi Sundell

    With plenty of foliage in hot weather, the leaves will be losing a lot of moisture so you may need to water more. Several times a day seems like a lot, but if you have not gotten the earthbox so wet it drowns the roots you should be fine.

    The yellow blooms you see will make tomato seeds when fertilized by friendly bees. The fruit forms at the base of the flower. You will see a little green knob there and the wilted blossom will at some point fall off. The little green knobs are the wee tomatoes.

    You may have some already, but if it is too hot in the daytime they may not be setting fruit yet. As the daytime temps cool going into fall they certainly will start setting fruit if they are not doing so already.

    Have fun! Those little green knobs turn into delicious large tomatoes sooner or later!

  9. Ron Howard

    Hi Lexi
    We live 50 miles north of Houston and hurricane Ike hit our motor home directly but we sustained no major damage, including our tomatoe plants. We had moved the Earthbox up against the side of the RV before we left. The plants received water only one day in the middle of the 8 days we were gone, but did well. The plants have both strted to produce several tomatoes but yesterday I saw one that had a large deep hole in it. Is that more likely damage from a bird or bugs? I did see a long bug crawling on the plants that looke something like a brown ant or fire ant but couldn’t get to it or see it well. I really don’t want to have to spray the plants but I do want to get tomatoes that aren’t damaged by bugs or birds. Do you have any suggestions? As you will remember, this is my first experience trying to grow tomatoes or any darden items.

  10. Lexi Sundell

    Hi Ron,
    I am so glad you folks are all right! And your motor home and tomato plants too! I went through a 1.5 billion dollar hailstorm in a tent in Fort Worth once, quite unintentionally I assure you. I respect Texas weather…

    Anyway, I am not too sure what your hole is from since I cannot see it. I have never sprayed my tomatoes, no matter where I lived with them. I used to plant smelly marigolds with them to reduce the pest problems but with my current environment I don’t even do that.

    You might simply remove the tomato that is damaged and keep a close eye on things. No need to panic at this stage.

    If you got through a hurricane with only one hole in a tomato, you are doing good!


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