How to plant tomatoes in trenches?

Tomato    SC

I'm very new to growing vegetables so I'm still discovering lots of new things. I have been reading some articles about planting tomatoes almost horizontally in trenches as the plant will sprout roots along the stem. I think this sounds like a good thing to try but I have some questions. First, can anybody tell me a good length of stem to leave above the ground? Should I remove the leaves which are going below ground? Also nowhere seems to mention plant spacings... if I have a long trench, presumably I can fit more than one plant in so how much space do I leave between the root of one plant and the stem of the other? Sorry for all the questions, hope somebody can help me.

Posted by: Melanie Young (2 points) Melanie Young
Posted: May 3, 2013


It depends on how tall your seedlings are. Usually I plant mine when they're less than 6 inches high, so instead of a trench, I dig a deeper hole. For tall seedlings, it's often easier to dig a trench. I'd make the trench at least 3-4 inches deep, so if your seedlings are small, you'd just plant them vertically.

The goal is to have the growing tip and 2-3 pairs of true leaves above ground. Remove the rest of the leaves (the ones that would be below ground) and bury the stem. I either pinch off the leaves or gently snip them.

(Also remove any flowers at planting time, so that the plant will put its energy into growing roots rather than fruits. If you leave the flowers on, the plant will grow those fruits and then, if its root system is not strong enough to support more fruiting, stop producing.)

You won't be putting more than one plant in each trench. Spacing depends on how much garden space you have and how much production you expect. If you have the space, place them 3-4 feet apart. I like lots of variety and have limited garden space, so I plant mine 2-2.5 feet apart. I get less production per plant, though. Measure the spacing from where the stem enters the ground. Even if you plant it in a trench, the plant will grow vertically.

Posted by: Tanya in the Garden (128 points) Tanya in the Garden
Posted: May 4, 2013

A couple of years ago I was extremely late getting my tomatoes into the field. My starts were long and scrawny. I probably had 8-10 inches horizontally in trenches, with about 4 inches of soil on top and 4 inches of tomato above the soil line. I do a closer spacing, more like 18" between where the stems came out of the ground (which means that most of the soil between two plants is taken up with underground stem). It was a great crop that year (until the remnants of 2 tropical storms hit us and dropped 15 inches of rain in less than 2 weeks)!

I prefer to use tomato starts that are about 8-10 inches tall. I bury them deep to get the extra roots benefit, leaving about 4 inches above the soil. I never bother with removing the leaves. They'll disintegrate in time anyway, and it's easy to do stem damage when removing leaves.

Posted by: Deb (7 points) Deb
Posted: May 13, 2013

Lay the plant down horizontally in a shallow trench (stem covered with 1-2 inches soil) and bend the tip up. A good length of stem to leave above the ground - 5 to 6 inches. The stem will form multiple roots and get the plant off to a fast start.
Remove the leaves which are going below ground? Generally yes - they will rot anyway.
How much space to leave between the root of one plant and the stem of the other? Use the same spacing as if you planted them vertically. If you like plants 3 feet apart, plant them so the upright parts are 3 feet apart. Don't worry about the root location.

Posted by: Charlie B. (1 point) Charlie B.
Posted: May 9, 2013

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