Deliberate Agrarian
Snippet #37

The Stick Trick
For Planting Tomatoes

Dateline: 28 May 2014

Planting tomato seedlings is always something of an event for me. I raise them from a seed, nurture them carefully, and then the day comes when I  must plant them out into the big bad world. I suppose the planting of tomato seedlings (that you have raised yourself) could be analogous to sending your child off to the government school for the first day of kindergarden. Thankfully, I did not have to subject any of my children to the government school system, but tomato plants are different, and I digress. 

There was a time when I dug a deep hole to plant my seedlings. But that was a mistake on my part. Deep soil is colder and colder soil is not the best for a tomato. When I got schmarter on this matter I started "trench planting" my tomatoes, as explained in This Dependable Old Tomato-Growing Guide.

The picture above shows one of my seedlings about to get itself planted. I always soak the planting hole thoroughly with water. The lower leaves will be pinched off, leaving just the topmost leaves above the soil.

The picture above shows how much of that long seedling is exposed to the sun. Roots will form all along the buried stem. At this time in it's just-planted life the seedling is an inviting  morsel for cutworms. It is powerfully discouraging to see your tomato seedling wilt and die because a cutworm has encircled the tender stem and gnawed into it.

A common method for preventing cutworms from perpetrating their wickedness it to wrap the stem with newspaper. The method works but for the past couple of years I have used "sticks" instead of newspaper to protect the young stems, as the next picture shows…

(click the picture to see a  larger view)

One stick is probably enough to prevent a cutworm from encircling the stem, but I use three. The sticks are nothing more than pieces of split (with a utility knife) goldenrod stem. 

And that's the tomato-planting stick trick.


vdeal said...


Digging a deep hole is not necessarily a mistake. I plant in raised beds and the soil is warm throughout. My tomatoes are bigger than the ones you show since I use soil blocks (check Eliot Coleman's books) and a 4 inch square doesn't lay very flat but it certainly fits nicely in deep hole. I just planted my tomatoes yesterday after a decent rain and can say that the soil wasn't cool at all.

SharonR said...

I've never thought about the ground being colder down deep. I'm in Arkansas, so that may be why. When it frosts on July 4 in northern New York, I can see why it'd be too cold just 6 inches down. (I got all my New York state education from "Farmer Boy" - by Laura Ingalls Wilder) :-) But, cut worms are everywhere so thanks for the stick trick. Much better than the task of cutting toilet paper rolls or making something similar from cereal boxes, etc. Thanks for that tidbit!

Anonymous said...

I have to agree that a deep planting hole is not necessarily bad for tomatoes. For those of us in AZ, we want that cooler soil down deep, it's the only thing that saves the plants when the temps get so high in the summer!

Grace said...

My Mother always put aluminum foil around the stem of any plant that she thought might get eaten by cut worms. Always seemed to work.