Growing Delicious Tomatoes in the Ground: A Step-by-Step Guide

Maximize plant growth with deep watering pipes

For each of your tomatoes, dig holes 18-24 inches wide and about 18-24 inches deep. Space the holes 3½-4 feet apart, 4 feet is best if you have the room.

That soil you dug out of the hole … discard it … throw it away … it’s no good … it’s mostly “dirt.” Next, fill the holes with water. If the water is not gone/drained in 24 hours, dig deeper … the water must drain.

Why are you doing this? Probably our biggest improvement in growing tomatoes and other garden vegetables will be planting in great soil.

We have already talked about soil and using a great potting soil/mix. We have discussed how to grow in containers and how to grow in raised beds. Now, we discuss how to use potting soil for growing tomatoes and our vegetable gardens in a typical back-yard front yard situation.

Typically, our backyards/front yards are “dirt.” As in ground up rocks with little or no nutritional value ... Hahahaha ... Typically, we add in a little compost with the dirt, mix it up and figure that should make those little veggies and tomatoes happy. And it doesn’t and we blame the poor crop on another “bad” year. Lousy luck.

Tomatoes have deeper root systems. And for a great crop of tomatoes you can’t just mix in compost with typical backyard/front yard dirt and expect good results. We want and need a mixture that is rotting, decomposing and holds water well. It’s a perfect combination. Imagine walking in the mountains under the pine trees on the forest floor. It would be kind of “spongy” from rotting decomposing wood products of the forest. That’s the kind of soil we want, rotting and decomposing, not ground up rock and dirt.

Tomatoes have bigger, deeper root systems than average garden vegetables. For most garden vegetables about a foot deep of great potting soil/ potting mix is enough...tomatoes like it deeper.

Once the hole drains, you can put a 25 gallon tree size container in the hole or simply fill the hole with that great potting mix. See photo below. If using a container, cut some of the bottom out of the 25 gallon container so the tomato roots have room to grow right on down in the dirt/soil below the container.

If, when digging, you have a lot of roots from nearby plants you are digging through ... this may not work well. After a year or 2 of growing tomatoes in those same holes, the invasive roots from other plants may come in and steal the water and nutrients meant for the tomatoes. If that’s the case, eventually you will need to place pots. No matter what, you will one way or the other get plenty of tomatoes.

See the invasive roots above; they could cause problems in the future

If using a container, cut a little bigger hole in the bottom

Level it out best you can

Next, fill the hole and/or your 25 gallon containers with that great potting soil/potting mix. We reviewed the best potting soil to use here: The best potting soil or mix for tomatoes and vegetables

Add about one-third of a bag of composted steer manure with compost. Mix it in.

Saturate the potting mix with water until the water overflows and runs off the top. Let the water sink in then walk on top to compact the potting mix / potting soil and then add more potting soil mix to the top, soak it down, walk on it to compact. You are ready for planting 1 tomato plant each hole/container. Each year, simply add more potting soil/mix to each hole. You don’t need to put all new soil in each year.

The above picture is how your planter looks after filling in all the holes with a premium potting soil/mix and adding composted steer manure on top, installing the "Deep Watering Pipes" and placing a wooden stake in the center of each hole.

Plant one tomato plant per hole. As you see in the picture ... if the stakes were not there ... you may not know where the center of your hole for planting is located. You don’t want to be digging new holes ... hahaha ... always put a stake in the center of the hole.

If you bury 25 gallon containers, no problem finding the hole.

Deep Watering Pipes for Tomatoes

These are not for containers. What are they? Deep Watering Pipes are not absolutely necessary but they are quite helpful and you should notice a difference in the sizes of your tomato plants. Holes in the pipes go down about 18 inches deep into the soil to get additional water down deep to the tomato root systems. These are the white pipes you see in the pictures.

Use 4 inch diameter pipe with perforated holes already in them. These pipe sections are available at big box stores such as Home Depot and Lowes, usually in the plumbing section. They come in 10 foot lengths. You will need to cut 18-20 inch pieces from the perforated pipes and purchase a collar for each. The perforations go into the ground. Install the collar at top of perforated pipe then add a short solid piece that extends above ground as high as you like to keep soil from falling into the pipe. Make your own or I sell these. See the order form

How do you install the Deep Watering Pipes? First, dig your hole for your tomato plant, 2 feet wide x 2 feet deep, and throw away the dirt. Make sure the hole drains then fill the hole with proper potting soil/mix and composted steer manure with compost.

Plant 1 tomato plant center of the hole. Place cage on top. Then using a post hole digger, dig two, or better yet, three 18-20 inch deep holes. Place these holes into the dirt about 4-6 inches outside the heavy duty tomato cage. Place your 18-20 inch perforated pipe with attached coupling and short piece that extends above ground into the hole -perforated pipe down first. Fill in dirt and pack dirt around pipe to secure it snugly. Done.

When watering, slowly run the garden hose near the base of the plant until the original hole is full and water begins to run off. Then, fill up each Deep Watering Pipe a couple times. All this moisture down deep encourages lots of roots to grow toward the moisture. Lots of roots means you will grow a big top because you have a huge root system. A big top on the plant means you can support and will have lots and lots of tomatoes. It’s that simple.

Deep Water Pipes are not absolutely necessary but you will grow bigger plants.

You are welcome to share this information with others—family, friends and clubs, etc.

Sharing tips helps us be better growers.

Dave Freed /  the Tomato Guy

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