In Your Words: 9 Tomato Planting and Growing Tips to Try

tomato plants and eggs

One popular trick is adding egg shells, or whole eggs, before planting, which can boost calcium content in the soil.

Last year, I shared a tip I’d learned from successful vegetable gardeners about planting tomatoes in deep holes or in trenches. This post received hundreds of reader comments with your own tricks, tips and hacks for planting and growing amazing tomatoes (thanks everyone for sharing!), so this year, I’m sharing a round-up of your ideas. Some I’ve tried before and can attest that they work, others I’ve heard of but never tried, and a few are totally new to me.

Plant Deeply

First, let’s talk again about that deep planting. Several of you gave this practice a thumbs up, though most preferred just to plant deeply instead of in trenches.

Dick Mattingly says: “For me, trenching is too much work — also takes up too much space. I’ve found deeper holes much easier — been planting ‘deep’ for years.”

And an unidentified reader has this extra tip: “The wife also likes to scratch or break the surface (ever so lightly) of the main stem of the tomato that goes under the ground. It helps promote root growth as I understand it.”

Anyone know why “the wife’s” trick would help?

Eggs and Coffee

tomato with egg planted in the hole

See the egg there below the tomato transplant?

Jenn Raven says: “Every Sunday after breakfast, I take my egg shells and coffee grinds and put it in the blender and make a slurry then feed my roses and tomato plants!”

Jenn’s practice is a good one — coffee grounds can contribute nitrogen to soil and repel slugs and snails (as this Oregon study shows), and egg shells add calcium, helping tomato plants regulate moisture intake and prevent blossom end rot.

I like to follow an old-timer tradition of planting a raw egg directly in the hole with the tomato. This is a form of direct composting, where materials break down and contribute nutrients directly in the soil. This year, I planted two tomatoes with an egg in the hole, two without, and I’m going to see if the egg appears to make a difference.

Add Epsom Salt

epsom salt in the garden

Epsom salt should only be added if a soil test shows you have a magnesium deficiency.

Epsom salt was a hot topic on the previous tomato planting post. And it’s a hot topic among scientists as well. While gardeners have sworn by the practice of fertilizing with Epsom salt, which contains magnesium, for generations, there’s little scientific evidence that it works. And in fact, it can rob the plants of calcium. So it’s best to only use Epsom salt if a soil test says you’re low on magnesium. Still …

Laurel Ridge says: “I grow HUGE tomatoes and share with all the neighbors. My secret: Epsom salts. Every couple of weeks I throw a handful around the bottom of each plant. It helps the plants absorb the nutrients in the soil. I had heirloom plants over 8 feet tall, and cherry tomatoes producing more tomatoes than we could handle.”

And Daniel says: “For great tomatoes and peppers, about once a month put some Epsom salt around the plants. You will have more tomatoes and peppers than you know what to do with.”

Jerry Lovelace has a special recipe that combines all three tips from above: “I take 12 cups of worm casting, 1 cup of Epsom salt, 1/4 cup of baking soda, 12 egg shells (ground-up). Mix all together. 12 tomatoes plants, 1 cup per plant, take off 3/4 of leaves, plant side ways about 5 inches deep. Put one cup on each stem. My tomatoes plants gets about 9 feet tall.”

(Again, it’s best to get a soil test first before starting this practice.)

Go Fish

Now, I have heard of planting a fish in the hole with your vegetables before, but I haven’t tried it. It’s known to be a traditional American Indian practice of direct composting.

Joel says: “18 – 24″ deep hole, 1 large salmon carcass (fillets only removed, leaves head, tail, spine and excess meat), two handfuls bone meal, gallon or so worm castings mixed in soil to fill, couple handfuls of vegetable fertilizer (Gardner and Bloome is good), plant deep as described above. Give foliar feeding of worm casting tea every week or so for feeding.”

Anyone other than Joel tried the go-fish method?

Cow Power

Cow manure compost is commonly available at your local garden center, and I definitely can back up this nutrient-packed practice. If you have a local source, that’s even better.

MaryAnn says: “We were taught by an old farmer in Vermont how to grow huge tomatoes. Dig a deep hole, put in some fertilizer (cow manure) or what ever you choose, 2 big handfuls of sawdust, more soil and then your tomato plant. We had the biggest tomatoes I ever saw. The sawdust stays moist even when there is no rain, so the plants still blossom and you get huge tomatoes.”

I’ve never heard the bit about the sawdust before. Anyone know why this works?

Water Smartly

tomato growing with soaker hoses

We all know that tomatoes and other vegetables need regular watering. Here are some techniques for getting that water on the cheap.

Ken’s advice: “Irrigate your tomatoes with the water from air conditioner drain. I added a PVC pipe to get the plant away from the AC. Just add a little fertilizer one plant will feed the whole family. You will need a post to fasten the plant to it will just keep growing until frost.”

Another unidentified reader has a smart recommendation: “I tried something that I think really helped. We had about 50 tomato plants in our garden and I put soaker hoses under each row. Put a timer on the water faucet and the water went straight the roots. Had a really good crop and had some plants that were 8′ or so tall. I staked them with horizontal slats screwed to uprights.”

And I agree with David Foster, who says: “Everyone should use a rain barrel … Free water.” Get instructions for installing an rain barrel.

100% Cotton

This one is totally news to me …

Brady says: “I go every year to a local cotton gin and get a load of gin trash to put in my garden. My tomatoes and okra love it. Last year they got about 7 feet tall.”

Some cursory research on my part shows that this is becoming a more widespread agricultural practice, making good use of a byproduct of cotton production. It holds soil in place as a mulch. Anyone else tried this?

Tomato + Potato

Also never heard of this one, but I’d love to try it.

Bonnie A recommends: “Core a quarter-size hole in a small to medium size potato and gently thread the roots of the tomato plant through the hole. Plant the tomato plant with 1/2 to 2/3 of it under the ground, as noted in the article, with the potato just above the root ball. When the tomato plants die at the first frost at the end of the season, you will be able to dig several nice size potatoes out with the spent tomato plant! They grow together perfectly well and you get two crops in the space for 1 plant! Have done this for years!”

Match Maker

And I am intrigued by this suggestion of planting matches in the hole with your tomatoes.

Edgar J says: “An old gardener that produced large tomatoes gave me this tip. He put a book of gopher matches at the bottom of each plant (pull the cover off first.) There is enough phosphorus in the matches for the plant.”

I still have no idea what a “gopher” match is (anyone, anyone?), but The Old Farmer’s Almanac corroborates Edgar’s story, at least for growing peppers. The decomposing matches add a touch of sulfur (rather than phosphorus) to the soil. Sounds worth a try.

Let’s keep the conversation going. Have you tried any of these lesser-known tomato tricks? What else do you have to share? Or do you want to bust some of these ideas as myths?

38 Responses

  1. Dawn says:

    What's the trick to getting sweet tomatoes? And how deep should I plant?

  2. cmac says:

    Dissolve one or two plain aspirin that have been crushed in a gallon of water and pour on the plants once a month. It is supposed to strengthen the immune system of the tomato plant and thus resist disease better and recover from insect damage faster.

  3. annamc says:

    My grandpa taught me to drive a piece of rebar (we had scraps) or a 9 inch nail or 3 into the ground around each plant. Gives them more iron. So add that to your eggshells etc and you'll have the perfectly nutritious 'maters!

  4. Chris says:

    I bought a full sized potted tomato plant from the store with blossoms on it. The blossoms have died and not produced any fruit. Is there anything I can do to revive my plant and get it to produce?

    • jean says:

      It is probably blossom end rot, do not get water on leaves or blossoms, make certain your plants have good air circulation around them, let your ground dry out a bit. If this doesn't work use organic neem oil spray, follow directions on neem bottle

    • jean says:

      Oh, and remove all the dead blossoms and leaves

  5. Cathrine says:

    I would like to thank you for your opportunity for emailing me

  6. Tom Sansalone says:

    I use a handful of dry dog food, (usually the store brand) and I put the dog food in at about 8 " down, cover that with about an inch of soil and then set my plant. I've always had tremendous results. The plants grow to 6' to 7' and the fruit get between 4 to 5 pounds each. The kind of tomato that only needs 1 slice to make a sandwich. This method works well on my peppers and cucumbers too. I guess that as the dog food decomposes, it produces good nitrogen into the roots to stimulate quick growth. The stems get thicker and the plants just seem to appear good and hearty

  7. Gayle says:

    I use the inside of a diaper in the hole with the tomato (and other) plants in the garden to maintain moisture better. Anyone else use diapers in the garden?

  8. Dianne says:

    A gopher match is just a book of matches.

  9. jo flowers says:

    My soil gets very hard and dry what can I put in it to hold moisture?

    • darkmilk53 says:

      peat moss

    • Scott says:

      If you or your neighbors have trees that drop leaves gather them up and spread over your garden each fall. Then during the spring and summer use your grass clippings on top of your garden soil. The clippings help the soil stay moist longer and decomposes to add nitrogen. As others have said Coffee grounds are also quite useful. Back to back years of 8ft heirloom tomato plants, 11 plants in the St Louis area yielding 200+ lbs. Cherokee Purple and Black Krim, are among my favorites.

      • cmac says:

        This year I am trying using the leaves as mulch around my plants. I vacuumed them and instead of composting the leaves I saved them to put around the plants (I have access to free empty horse and cattle food bags so I bag the shredded leaves in them until I am ready to use them). I compost all my grass clippings because I have enough problems with weeds without adding grass seed to the mixture. I did try that for a couple of years and had to dig out Bermuda grass every year.

    • kellysmtrimble says:

      Compost is good to improve your soil's moisture-holding capacity. It also makes your soil more fertile. I often use bagged compost (cow manure) but you can also make your own!

    • deliciaambrosino says:

      Coir with beneficial microbes, organic humus and really good compost.Throwing in a bit of vermiculite wouldn't hurt either for decent drainage.The coir and compost should make up the majority. You might also enjoy raised bed or vertical gardening instead of fighting with your soil. Good Luck.

    • Tonya says:

      Fill a gallon jug with water and put a hole in it just big enough to leek out slowly. Sit near the plant.

  10. Ed Meyers says:

    How do I keep deer away from my tomatoe plants? We're overun with deer and sometimes rabbits as well. It's very frustrating to lose plants when they get full of buds.

    • Anita Young says:

      I have been successful in repelling deer from my plants by cutting small pieces of sweet smelling soap, boring a hole in each piece of soap, threading a string through the hole and hanging several pieces on each tomato cage or on the tomato vine itself.

      • darkmilk53 says:

        I agree with Anita Young. Soap. I use onion bags and hang them from the trees near the garden and it keeps them away. Also, I have heard that they don't like rotten eggs, so if you can stand the smell, rotten eggs around the garden will help too. Or you might want to try moth balls. I've heard they work too.

    • Cindy says:

      I edge my garden with hot peppers. Ghost chili peppers are the first and last plants that the rabbits and deer go to. Then they make a run for the creek and do not come back.

    • deliciaambrosino says:

      Take everything out of your vacuum cleaner that has been sucked up from cleaning and spread it around your plants, use your pee or wild animal predator pee; a garlic soap mix, grow daffodils-in the spring time grind the flowers and stems up with water {1 gal}, strain and freeze until you need it, place 2 Tsp Dawn {blue} in with Daff Juice and spray your plants OR spray enough distance away from your plants that make it impossible for the deer to reach it. Do NOT forget their long tongues as well.

    • cmac says:

      Depending on the size of your garden you can use mono fishing line to keep deer out of your garden. Run four strands of it around the garden on fence posts. These measurements are approximate. Run the first strand 1 foot above the ground, the next 2 1/2 feet, then 3 1/2, and finally 4 1/2 feet from the ground. The theory is the deer cannot see the monofilament line and when they bump into it they are confused and do not attempt to jump it or go through it. I do this with one small alteration and I do not have a problem with deer getting into the garden since I started doing it. My alteration is to put 24" poultry netting on the bottom to keep rabbits out then put 3 strings of mono above that with the last 4 to 4 1/2 feet off the ground.

  11. Patricia Kalinowski says:

    How do you keep insects away from tomatoes?

    • deliciaambrosino says:

      Garlic. Also make a mix of 1Tsp Blue Dawn dish detergent, minced garlic, a few dash of hot or tabasco sauce and mix in one gallon of water. Let set for 24 hours, strain and either spray or use a watering can to apply. At ground level where tomatoe horn worms are,take an empty soup can cut bottom off with opener and then cut it length wise with tin snips. Situate this around the stem of your plant and squeeze just enough to have the edges overlap. Have a problem with slugs? Grease the can with an organic oil/fat or make a swimming pool for them using a cool whip bowl and the lid has a cut out so they can get in. Take the bowl and stick into the ground a couple inches. Proceed to fill the Slug Pool with beer to half the depth of the bowl. They won't be swimming for long. Just remember to empty, rinse, and refresh.

  12. Vickie Edwards says:

    Do not use gin trash on anything you will eat. Cotton is a big GMO crop and is sprayed with many poisons, composted or not, the poisons are still there~~~~


About Kelly Smith Trimble 


I grow vegetables wherever I can find enough sunlight and forage roadsides and hiking trails for plants that can be used to make natural dyes. You can find both vintage ...

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