Regional Gardening Reports :: National Gardening Association

In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2008
Regional Report

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Start your own sturdy tomato plants in plastic bags.

Planting Tomatoes

Betting that the soil will warm quickly as a result of our recent almost-80 air temperatures, you may want to plant some small tomato plants as soon as they're available in the nurseries, just to assure early and strong growth in the garden. For the tomato varieties you can't find commercially, it's time to plant seeds.

Seedling in a Bag
One technique to assure sturdy tomato plants from seeds started indoors uses quart-size plastic food storage bags. Folding the bags into square boxes allows several bags to fit together as a group in a square drip tray. Also, each plant's root system is concentrated in blocks that are easy to transplant into the garden. To prepare each bag, fold the bottom two corners under to meet, point to point, and tape them in place. Clip the four new corners for drainage.

Transplant each 2-inch tall seedling into its own bag. Fold down the top of each bag to just above the soil level of the plant. Pack each together in the drip tray, and place the tray in a bright but cool area. As the plants grow, add more soil every few days up to the growing tip, pulling up the sides of the bag as necessary. Water and feed as usual. Turn the whole tray every day or so so the plants grow straight. The resulting transplants often have half-inch-thick stems.

Into the Garden
For deep planting into the garden, cut open the bottom of the bag, and set the plant and its entire root system into a hole deep enough to bury the plant up to its top set of leaves. Slip the bag up and out of the hole over the plant. Fill in the hole with soil.

For horizontal planting, also cut open the bottom of the bag, but turn the plant on its side and gently urge it out so it's laying down in a 3- inch-deep trench long enough to accommodate the root section and half of the plant stem. Gently bend the plant's growing tip up above the soil surface, and fill in the hole around the plant and up to these top leaves.

Water the plant with a half-strength solution of a balanced complete fertilizer, such as 10-10-10. "Balanced" means all the N-P-K numbers are the same. "Complete" means that there is at least some of each N, P, and K, that none of the numbers is a zero, such as 0-10-10.

In both planting techniques, roots will form along the length of the buried stem. The deep-planting method is generally chosen by gardeners in areas with warm springs and summers and those who have loose soils in raised beds. The horizontal planting method is more useful for gardens with cooler springs and summers and soils that are heavy.

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