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Mel's Advice - Lay Tomatoes Down

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Post  sfg4uKim on 2/10/2012, 8:34 am

No matter how many times we read the book, there always seems to be a nugget that we skip over or forget about. SOOOOOO I'm going to share this one.

From pp 159-160 in the All New Square Foot Gardening book:

"Since a tomato plant can sprout new roots along its main stem, I have found that the best way to plant the main crop of tomatoes is to lay them down horizontally in a shallow trench. They will develop an enormous number of roots, all along that hairy stem, which will sustain a larger, more productive plant. Pick your best-looking plants, and pinch or cut off the lower leaves (at least two or three) so you have a stall skinny plant ready to plant in a lay-me-down position.

"To do this, you first locate the square foot it's going to be in, take your hand or a trowel, and dig out a long shallow trench, perhaps 3 or 4 inches deep in the middle of the square and as long as your tomato plant is. Make the trench long enough so you can lay down the plant with the root ball at one end. Dig a little deeper for the root ball and then lay the stem on the bottom of the trench. At the other end where the top is (remember you cut off most of the lower leaves), very, very carefully bend the top so it starts pointing up. You can take the Mel's Mix, an dpush it underneath that bent top to asct as a pillow, and if you're very gentle, you'll end up with the top sticking out of the soil at a slight angle. It does not have to point straight up; it just has to be aboveground. Fill in the rest of the trench and water well."

MY PERSONAL NOTE: I have done this for years and have one note to add. No matter how you to do this, be consistent where you put the root ball. For instance, I always put the root ball toward the back right corner and put my trench diagonally so that the top of the plant ends up in the center of the square. The reason for this is so that I know where to water. If I'm not consistent, I would have no clue where the roots are and have to water the entire square.

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Post  landarch on 2/10/2012, 10:09 am

Mels book also recommends to pinch side shoots on the growing tomato plants to create a vining condition...does this work with all indeterminate varieties (roma, cherry, regular, etc.)?

Does anyone have any good pictures of this method - maybe beginning, middle, and harvest)?
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Post  llama momma on 2/10/2012, 10:27 am

sfg4ukim -
Somehow must have done it wrong last year. Laid it down horizontal like Mel described (so I thought) and the upper stem pushed Mel's Mix out of the way and the darn thing stood up like a straight pencil. Tried a second time, laid it horizontal under the mix and put a small stone on the upper stem. Same thing happened. Maybe not planted deep enough? Thought it was kinda funny and gave up trying.
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Post  HieronRemade on 2/10/2012, 10:56 am

@landarch wrote:Mels book also recommends to pinch side shoots on the growing tomato plants to create a vining condition...
Hey Landarch - Yup you can do that w/ any indeterminate variety. This video goes into a lot of detail about pinching the suckers, and is awesome for other reasons (see the thread I made about it HERE).

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Post  quiltbea on 2/10/2012, 1:10 pm

I wouldn't remove the suckers on determinates. They are made to produce their whole crop within a week or 2 or 3 so that if you remove the suckers, you are removing a good bit of your current crop. I remove the suckers only on all my indeterminates which vine long and just keep growing until they freeze.

I have transplanted some horizontally and they did just fine.
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Post  Noie on 2/10/2012, 1:13 pm

Thanks for the video! I really had no idea what the heck a sucker was. My tomatoes would have run rampant! Laughing
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Post  sfg4uKim on 2/10/2012, 1:14 pm

@llama momma wrote:sfg4ukim -
Somehow must have done it wrong last year. Laid it down horizontal like Mel described (so I thought) and the upper stem pushed Mel's Mix out of the way and the darn thing stood up like a straight pencil. Tried a second time, laid it horizontal under the mix and put a small stone on the upper stem. Same thing happened. Maybe not planted deep enough? Thought it was kinda funny and gave up trying.

I'm not sure if I understand this correctly, but the top IS supposed to grow straight up. Let me go a little further from the book (p. 160):

"In just a few days that top will straighten itself up, and at the same time all the new roots will start sprouting out from the main stem."

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Post  HieronRemade on 2/10/2012, 1:30 pm

@Noie - Yah I think that's a common source of confusion for new gardeners, particularly SFG'ers. I read and read and couldn't understand it until I found some videos like that one.

@Llama Momma - Call me crazy but I think that's exactly what your tomatoes were supposed to do! The ends are supposed to grow upward so you can weave them through the trellis right?
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Post  llama momma on 2/10/2012, 3:03 pm

I was trying to say the entire stem stood up even though it was buried. Think of a pencil laying flat on a table then stand it up to write. That is what the entire plant did. So there wasn't any available stem to grow more roots. Kinda crazy huh?
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Post  rhanford on 2/10/2012, 3:56 pm

I've always just waited until the plant is about 8-12", pulled off the bottom leaves (2 or 3), and planted it straight down. I've never "laid" them down. What would the advantage be to "laid" down vs straight down?
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Post  boffer on 2/10/2012, 4:07 pm

In a SFG box, straight down is less than six inces! The trench method works well; the stem that is showing doesn't have to be propped at exactly 90°. It can be at 45° and it will straighten up vertically as it grows and adjusts.. When you break a plant (and sooner or later you will!) the plant stem can be stuck in MM or water and it will re-root.
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Post  HieronRemade on 2/10/2012, 4:14 pm

@Momma - Oh wow, that is weird! Yah I have no advice for that lol...

@rhanford - I think there are a couple reasons...when you lay it down, it can more easily take advantage of the nutrients across the whole square by having roots along a line instead of just in a ball in the middle. Also, I think having it that way puts the plant in a better position for weaving into the trellis netting. Oh and it also provides more of a "foundation" for the plant, which isn't as big a deal for indeterminates that are trellised, but might help w/ bush varieties since one of the few downsides of SFG is that the plants can't anchor themselves as well in 6" of MM.
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Post  landarch on 2/10/2012, 4:32 pm

@H.R. - thanks for the video...extremely helpful (I'm a visual person so I like to see things done in addition to reading).
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Post  HieronRemade on 2/10/2012, 4:37 pm

@landarch wrote:@H.R. - thanks for the video...extremely helpful (I'm a visual person so I like to see things done in addition to reading).

Np, I totally understand! Despite a lot of reading I couldn't wrap my head around it until I saw a video.
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Post  sfg4uKim on 2/10/2012, 5:15 pm

@llama momma wrote:I was trying to say the entire stem stood up even though it was buried. Think of a pencil laying flat on a table then stand it up to write. That is what the entire plant did. So there wasn't any available stem to grow more roots. Kinda crazy huh?

Really crazy!

Regarding trenching vs. just planting it deeper (p.160):

"Some books may advise you to dig a deep hole, and plant the tomato straight down deep so just the top leaves show, thus burying the stem. This is okay, but that puts the plant quite deep in the ground and usually it's still springtime and the ground is still fairly cool. So I've found the lay-me-down method will make the plant grow much faster, because the soil at that level is warmer, by perhaps as much as 10 degrees."

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Post  rhanford on 2/10/2012, 7:50 pm

Thanks for the answers! I guess I have never really had to worry about soil temps being in FL, but it is great to know! Smile
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Post  shannon1 on 2/11/2012, 12:28 am

I don't grow my own transplants for tomatoes. When I am picking out my new babies I pick the smallest, stocky plants, pinch off all but the very top leaves and bury them straight down up to thier little necks. The plants roots defenatly fill the whole square and beyond. If you do this you must use small plants and make sure they are not pot bound or stressed out. If there are any flowers at this time (I try and find ones with no flowers if possible) pinch them off so the energy can go to root and leaf development. Don't worry the plant will make lots more flowers very soon. As the plants grow I also pinch off any leaves that touch the ground (to prevent disease as that is a problem here), as well as the suckers.
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Post  GWN on 2/11/2012, 11:06 am

a slight variation, I did last year. I cut holes in the bottom of the pots that the seedlings were growing on and essentially just set them on top of the soil. The reason I did this, was that I was not sure if my raised beds were deep enough for tomatoes. I now read that they likely are deep enough for tomatoes (after reading about SFG)
So essentially each plant had a little "cuff" of dirt and then the roots went down below.
This worked well in that I could water and especially add compost to a very specific area.
My tomato plants had extremely thick central stalks and were incredibly productive.
But it did give the plant more roots.

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Post  HieronRemade on 2/11/2012, 12:32 pm

Ha that's a really interesting idea GWN, I never would have thought of that. That would probably be great for the plants in terms of not disturbing their root systems too, which would put less stress on the plants and keep growth from slowing down while they recover!
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Post  lturner on 2/11/2012, 5:41 pm

Can anyone recommend a YouTube video or pictures for the "lay down" method for tomatoes? I am a visual learner!!!

thanks!
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Post  plantoid on 2/11/2012, 6:15 pm

@lturner wrote:Can anyone recommend a YouTube video or pictures for the "lay down" method for tomatoes? I am a visual learner!!!

thanks!

Turner ,
Try this link it shows it in the first few seconds of the clip when he plants the first tomato plant , the others are for vertical planting

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ozHhKfM_C7o


Last edited by plantoid on 2/11/2012, 6:35 pm; edited 2 times in total
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Post  sfg4uKim on 2/11/2012, 6:17 pm

@lturner wrote:Can anyone recommend a YouTube video or pictures for the "lay down" method for tomatoes? I am a visual learner!!!

thanks!

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DZqiBbkL4CY (Tomato starts at 2:25). I'd probably put it a little deeper than he does.

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Post  CarolynPhillips on 2/11/2012, 6:49 pm

In addition to making the Trench (lay-me-down) method work without breaking the tomato plant is to Lay the tomato plant down on its side and use an object to hold it down a few inches from the tip. Leave it like this for two to three days and the tip will turn upward and make trench planting easier without breaking the stem. Don't forget to turn it upright and water....then lay back down every day.
I have also seen this done with using a plank board (1x4, 2x4 )and tie the plant stem to the board where you are wanting it to turn upwards, lay the board down until the tip grows upward.
then remove board, plant in trench
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Post  RoOsTeR on 2/12/2012, 5:39 pm

@lturner wrote:Can anyone recommend a YouTube video or pictures for the "lay down" method for tomatoes? I am a visual learner!!!

thanks!

Razz Lol! Me too! I keep thinking

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Post  camprn on 2/12/2012, 7:04 pm

nKedrOoStEr wrote:
@lturner wrote:Can anyone recommend a YouTube video or pictures for the "lay down" method for tomatoes? I am a visual learner!!!

thanks!

Razz Lol! Me too! I keep Mel's Advice - Lay Tomatoes Down 601593

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