In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
February, 2002
Regional Report

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Plastic food storage bags make roomy containers for tomato seedlings.

Tomato-Starting Time

I use an unusual technique to grow my tomato seedlings to transplant size. This method, using quart-size plastic food storage bags, gives me strong, stocky plants that transplant easily into the garden. Here's how I do it:

Technique

Take a plastic bag, and fold the bottom two corners under to meet, point to point, and tape them in place. This transforms the shape into a little square-bottom box. Clip the four new corners for drainage. Then place several of these box-shaped bags into a drip tray.



Transplant each two-inch-tall tomato seedling into its own bag. Roll down the top of each bag to just above the soil level of the plant. Set them 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, unrolling the sides of the bag as necessary. Water and feed as usual. Turn the whole tray every day or so to ensure that the plants grow straight. The resulting transplants will have sturdy stems up to a half inch thick.

Planting in the Garden

There are two ways to plant tomatoes in the garden: vertically in a deep hole, or horizontally in a trench. The deep-planting method is generally best for 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. In both planting techniques, roots will form along the length of the buried stem.



Deep Planting

To set the plant upright, dig a hole deep enough to bury the plant up to its top set of leaves. Then cut open the bottom of the bag and set the plant into the hole. Slip the bag up and out of the hole over the plant, then fill in the hole with soil.



Horizontal Planting

For horizontal planting, cut open the bottom of the bag, then turn the plant on its side and gently remove it from the bag. Dig a trench long enough for the root section and about half the stem. Set the plant horizontally in the trench, then gently bend the plant's growing tip up above the soil surface. Fill in the hole around the plant and up to these top leaves.



Water in 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; none of the numbers is a zero, such as 0-10-10.


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