By Sadie Ross
Did you know that it’s not too late to get tomato plants into the ground?
If you were busy Memorial Day weekend and couldn’t get all of the plants you purchased from the Saratoga Farmers’ Market into the ground, don’t sweat it. Many of the solanaceous vegetables (tomatoes, peppers, and eggplants) prefer the heat and warm soils that occur a week or two past the popular planting weekend. Even cucumbers thrive in the heat; unlike pumpkins that don’t mind the cold rainy days of May. If you are planning for a mid-June planting, here are a few tips:
- Preparing to transplant. If you purchase starter plants at the Saratoga Farmers’ Market, store them in the shade until you’re ready to transplant them and give them less fertilizer than usual. You don’t want them to outgrow their pots and start to get root bound; a situation that refers to the thickly woven roots inside the container. Root bound plants suffer from transplant shock and will take extra time to adjust to the garden environment. If plants have gotten root bound, be sure to tease out the roots by pulling the bottom of the root mat outward and breaking up some of that woven mess.
- Dig deep. Tomato plants that have been happily growing for a while in their pots may be taller than what you would typically plant. Plant these large plants deep. Break off the bottom few branches of leaves and put them 6-8 inches into the soil. Don’t want to dig a hole that deep? That’s ok; tomato plants will grow roots up their stems if given the right conditions. This means you can dig a shallower hole but dig horizontal and lay the plant on its side 6-8 inches then burry it. The top should be bent, without breaking the stem, so it grows up right. The shallower hole also keeps the roots in warmer soil.
- Any plant that requires staking should be done at planting. Once a large plant is placed into warm soils and given proper water and nutrition, it is going to take off, roots included. Rather than stabbing into the root system with a stake in the ground after the plant requires support, place it in early and allow the roots to grow around it. This includes cucumbers that enjoy climbing up a tomato cage just as much as a tomato does; leaving more room in the garden and keeping the cucumbers up off the ground and easier to see and pick.