Gardening 101: How to Plant Tomatoes

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There are few things I enjoy more during the summer that eating the bounty of fresh organic tomatoes I grow in my garden. Last year, I grew about 140 pounds of tomatoes and even though I had to give a lot of them away, I was still able to can enough to last my family through the winter so that we didn't need to buy BPA-containing metal cans of tomatoes. 

Important: Know when the right time to plant is! Don't plant your tomatoes until all danger of frost has passed. Where I live, that's about mother's day weekend BUT the weather this week is supposed to be in the 70's and 80's so I'm planting a week early this year. Use this tool to check when your average last frost date is.


  • Tomato plants
  • Shovel or trowel
  • Dried egg shells
  • Epsom Salt (do NOT use table salt. it will kill your plant)
  • Measuring spoon
  • Water
  • Weather-appropriate work clothes (thanks to Duluth, I'm wearing the UPF 50 Crusher Sun Hat in raspberry and long sleeve Armachillo shirt in Raspberry Plaid)
Get geared up and head outside! 

recommend a hat with a wide brim (I LOVE this one from Duluth that has SPF built in), sunglasses and a breathable shirt. My armachillo shirt is by far my fave work shirt because I can wear the sleeves up or down as needed for the weather and it has breathable gussets built in to keep me from over heating while working in the sun.


Step 1: Pick the right spot
In addition to making sure you have the right timing for planting, make sure you pick the right spot to put tomatoes. Tomatoes like as much sun as possible. I have grown tomatoes in the past in a spot that was sunny for half the day and shady for half and while I got a few tomatoes, I got about 4 times the yield when I got a community garden plot and started growing in full sun. You also want to try and avoid planting tomatoes in the same dirt that grew tomatoes in the last last 2 previous years. (Super new to gardening? Be sure to read these tips and more in Gardening 101: 10 Things Beginning Gardeners Need to Know)

Step 2: Dig a hole
Dig a hole that is large enough to accommodate the pot your tomato is in and then make it 1-2 inches deeper.

Step 3: Add an egg shell & epsom salt
Crush the egg shell and add it along with 1 teaspoon of epsom salt to the bottom of the hole. The egg shells provide calcium which help prevent blossom end rot. Unlike table salt, epsom salt's primary ingredient is magnesium. Magnesium strengthens plant cell walls and improves their ability to take in nutrients.

Step 4: Pinch off bottom branches & leaves
Use your fingers to pinch off the bottom 1-2 sets of branches and leaves from the tomato plants. Be especially sure to remove anything that will be below the ground or will be touching the ground once the plant is in the hole.

Step 5: Plant it!
Squish the sides of the pots to loosen the soil and gently pull up on the plant by the base of the stem to remove it from the pot. If the plant has been in the pot for a long time, you'll see white roots wrapping around the edges. If you have root-wrap issues, squish the root ball a bit to loosen them. If they are very tight, use a knife or shears to cut off the very bottom of the root ball before planting. Place your plant in the hole you prepared and slide the dirt back in. Create a low spot in the dirt near the stem to help water pool up at the base of the plant when watering.

Step 6: Cage it (optional)
Tomatoes all do better with support (and really, don't we all?). If you are planning to use cages to support your tomatoes, they are WAY easier to install when you plants are little. If you're already outside working, it's easy to just install them at the same time. Most tomato cages come with the spikes pointing in toward the center. This is to help them pack and ship easier. Before sticking them in the ground, pull their legs out to be straight down or angled out (see arrows). Not sure how you feel about cages? Alternative tomato support options are coming in a future post.

Continue following steps 1-6 for each tomato plant, giving plants about 18 or more inches between plants (I also like to stagger them down the bed)

Step 7: Water
Make sure you water your plants once you're done planting them. If you are watering mid-day, ESPECIALLY if it is sunny, it's important to not drench the leaves or they will get sunburnt and unhappy. Use a watering can or a hose wand that distributes a soft stream of water and water at the base of the plant. Allow the well to fill but then move on before soil starts running or washing away. It's better to visit a plant 2-3 times to give it adequate water than it is to hold the hose on it too long the first time.

That's it! Remember to continue watering your tomato plants once the top inch of soil dries out. How long this takes will very by climate but in the Portland area, that's once every 2-3 days.

But this is the fun part!

Okay, planting tomatoes was fun, too. But if you were jealous of my super cute workwear, I am going to give you a chance to score some of your own as well. I am giving away a $50 giftcard to Duluth!

Duluth Trading Company is also offering free shipping now through June 30, 2013, for my readers. Just enter code “T13PRCG” (Note: $50 minimum order. Minimum order applies to total before tax, shipping or gift card purchases. Valid for US shipping only, on standard delivery.)

(feed and e-mail readers will need to click over to post to see giveaway widget below)

I was selected for this opportunity as a member of Clever Girls Collective and the content and opinions expressed here are all my own.


  1. You had so many great tips I can't wait to try! Took forever for my tomatoes to just get to "okay" last year. Then...those blasted aphids invaded and I tried everything to get rid of them. Nothing worked. I'll be a nut case if they show up this year.

    1. Basil, chives & nastutiums all repel aphids and make great companion plants for tomatoes. If aphids do show up, you can treat with ladybugs

  2. Great tips on planting tomatoes, Carissa! I've got to get on that! Will definitely plant some basil along side them (had aphids last year too).

  3. Love the bad ass photo of you with the hat on!

  4. I LOVE home grown tomatoes!!!

  5. Fresh tomatoes are so yummy! Great tips!

  6. I really need this post!
    I love home grown tomatoes and haven't had any since my wonderful FIL passed away a few years ago. (He was the family gardener!) I've tried planting some in the past, with miserable results.
    Hopefully this will help me!
    I've pinned this to my Home and Garden Board to remember!
    Thanks for sharing!
    Lisa H.


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