In the Garden:
Southern California Coastal & Inland Valleys
March, 2014
Regional Report

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Starting tomato seedlings in plastic bags facilitates the formation of roots along the entire stem.

It's in the 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 in a square drip tray. Also, each plant's root system is concentrated in a block of soil that's 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. If you're starting them indoors, you'll need a drip pan.

The "Grow-in-a-Bag" Technique
When seedlings are 2 inches tall and have at least 2 sets of true leaves, transplant them from their germination flat into individual bags. Fold down the top of each bag to just above the soil level of the plant. Pack each bag into 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 two so the plants grow straight. The resulting transplants often have 1/2-inch-thick stems, and roots along several inches of stem.

Planting Vertically
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.

Planting Horizontally
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 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 there is at least some each of N, P, and K.

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 if you garden in an area with cooler springs and summers, and when planting in heavy soil.

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