Asked on May 17, 2013

I bought a somewhat leggy tomato plant and upon looking online to see

by Louise
how to plant it, I found a video that said to put it into the ground sorta lying on its side but then pull it up into the upright position. Said the part underground would form roots and send up new plants (I think that what's she said). Shown here is a screen shot from the video showing how she's lying part of it down into a long hole in the ground. She also said to put some bone meal into the planting hole to produce more tomatoes instead of more green parts. Ideas on whether any of this is a good idea?
q i bought a somewhat leggy tomato plant and upon looking online to see, gardening
  53 answers
  • Angela A Angela A on May 17, 2013
    I have never heard of lying it in the ground for it to produce new plants, but it does form more roots that way. My grandfather taught me that when i was young. We always laid the long leggy ones sorta wideways like that. If you look at the stem of the plant you will see nodules on it, that's actually where roots are wanting to grow! Good Luck!

  • Sia@South 47th Sia@South 47th on May 17, 2013
    We used to call it 'sidewinding'. You can do it like this if you like, makes the mother plant stronger. I've found it works better with Heirlooms. I stay away from hybrids. As far as your soil, unless you take or send in some to your local ag-coop/uni, or purchase a soil tester, you really won't know what you've got, and what you need . Heirlooms are pretty doggone hardy though, in pretty much any kind of soil! Best of luck, happy gardening!

  • Megan Megan on May 17, 2013
    Yes, lie a leggy tomato on it's side and fill in soil to where the leaves are....stake it upright. It will form roots all along where your bury the stem; I have never heard of it growing new plants along the buried stem. You could also just plant them deeper rather than lying them on their side. Can't tell you about the soil prep though.

  • 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) 360 Sod (Donna Dixson) on May 17, 2013
    Bone meal feeds root structure, so it is a reasonable addition to the soil, unless you are a vegetarian who adheres to a strict vegan diet.

  • Louise Louise on May 17, 2013
    I actually am mostly vegan. What can be used instead of bone meal?

  • Sheila samples Sheila samples on May 18, 2013
    You can buy bone meal at the garden center and you don't have to eat the bone meal - just use it for nice big tomatoes. My mom uses it all the time and has wonderful big tomatoes. OR call your county cooperative extension agency or gardening masters and ask what elements make up bone meal and try to copy that... Maybe?

  • Caley's Culinaries Caley's Culinaries on May 18, 2013
    Bone meal is calcium. You could use egg shells. It will take a lot and they need time to break down. I don't plant mine sideways. They dry out too fast in the hot Georgia summer. Make a deep hole instead. You won't get multiple plants, but the one you get will be awesome!

  • Caley's Culinaries Caley's Culinaries on May 18, 2013
    Or gypsum. That is calcium too. Calcium prevents blossom-end rot in tomatoes too.

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 18, 2013
    Planting tomatoes this way is one way to ensure you get strong healthy plants. Normally, we take off all leaves except for the 1st set of "true leaves" that the 2 on the very top. Lay the plant down sideways in a little trench and cover up to the top 2 leaves. The plant will straighten itself out, not to worry. A tomato's stem is basically nothing but a large root system, by using this method, you are encouraging the plant to develop a much stronger root system with plenty of rootlets to make great tomatoes. Since we are organic gardeners, we always side dress the plants with compost or worm castings. If you don't wish to use bone meal, you can cheat with some cheap calcium tablets. Just poke a couple down around the plant and water well.

  • Rosemary N Rosemary N on May 18, 2013
    Catherine is right on! It sounds a little strange, but it is absolutely true. Ditto for the calcium tablets and maybe some epsom salts diluted in water (1 T epsom salts in a pitcher of water). This will help prevent blossom end rot. Water with this once a month or so. And be sure to water consistently (but not constantly) -- that helps prevent problems also.

  • Andi hurtig Andi hurtig on May 18, 2013
    I always buy "bargain" plants...I just stick them in the ground with a little bone meal, water with a little fish fertilizer added to water, and have success!

  • Jenny Jenny on May 18, 2013
    Or you can just plant the tomatoes deeper. I have been planting mine about half way up the plant for years. Same results as lying them flat but it takes up less space. I always have crazy-big tomato plants with tons of fruit! Good luck!

  • Wanda B Wanda B on May 18, 2013
    I plant my tomatoes this way every year.

  • Linda Hinchey Linda Hinchey on May 18, 2013
    I do it the same way Catherine Smith above does. Don't worry if you're thinking that it will take forever, by burying them this way. They'll grow more vigorously and shoot right on up. Last year I added ground eggshells and two aspirins to the hole and they did fabulous.

  • Louise Louise on May 18, 2013
    Thanks for all the replies. I'd never heard of this sideways planting so this, and the bone meal info, has been very helpful.

  • Jim Ginas Jim Ginas on May 18, 2013
    Great Post! Thanks. I didn't realize this and will test a couple for fun! Thanks!

  • Cindy June 55 Cindy June 55 on May 18, 2013
    Best things I know of to add to the soil to prevent blossom end rot is a handful of lime (for the calcium and it is vegan friendly) and a small handful of epsom salt (for the magnesium). Work into a deep wide hole and plant the tomato plant sideways as you are showing it. This planting method is good for leggy plants or if you can dig deep enough you can pinch off most of the side limbs and leave the hardiest part of the plant top and a few thick healthy limbs above ground. (this will give you a plant with a healthy root ball). Tomatoes are prone to fungal problems so give each plant lots of room to "breathe" and put mulch or newspapers around the base to keep water from splashing on the soil and getting on the plant. Also keep them away from any from the tobacco family as they are prone to getting a blight.... yellowing foliage and dropping of for this when buying plants. If you see yellow limbing find another plant as far away from the effected one!

  • Marei Marei on May 18, 2013
    This is all great advice. I'm glad I read this before tomato plants begin growing a lot. Mine are babies so this info will come in handy if they begin to get leggy.

  • Brenda Stephens Brenda Stephens on May 18, 2013
    I ALWAYS plant my tomatoes this way, and was taught by my father to do this. We always end up with a really strong root system. Just make sure you do not snap it when you try to bend it a little to have some at the top to grow.

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 19, 2013
    I forgot to mention gently wrapping the stem in black and white newspaper to ward off cut worms. And since you are also in the South, dig a little deeper hole, and add a book of matches (tear off the wrapper and strike pad). I also add a small handful of epsom salts as well. I side dress with calcium when the plants are setting blossom. I normally buy the cheapest, biggest bottle of calcium vitamins I can find and just poke a couple around each plant. Since you are also in the South, sometimes you have to add additional amendments because our clay soil is not always "plant friendly". LOL

  • Virginia A Virginia A on May 19, 2013
    You can either dig a deeper hole or lay it on it's side like shown. Roots will grow out of the long stem. I've done it and it works fine. It doesn't work to leave that long, leggy stem out of the ground because you have a weak plant easily damaged by wind or by the weight of the tomatoes.

  • Sleepy Maggie Sleepy Maggie on May 19, 2013
    I always plant all my tomato plants on their sides up to their necks - it works great! But I don't use bone-meal because it attracts varmints into the garden who dig up my plants to get at it.

  • Sandra Cook Sandra Cook on May 19, 2013
    You can boil your egg shells then use that water when you plant to get calcium into the plant faster then just crush the egg shells up and use them.

  • Judy Judy on May 19, 2013
    Since the stems will root planting them sideways will produce a more extensive root system but a shallower one. For hotter climates try just nipping off the bottom couple of leaf pairs & planting them deep for a deeper root system. Also water deeply & less often to encourage the roots to go down, mulch heavily to retain moisture & water from the bottom. I save my eggshells all winter, run them through my food processor & work them into the soil every spring before planting. It encourages a healthier root system & prevents blossom end rot.

  • Mikell Paulson Mikell Paulson on May 19, 2013
    I always plant my tomatoes real deep. Take the bottom leaf branches off an plant about 4 inches deeper than it is in the pot I bought it in! I was taut that buy a tomato grower! I stepped on one by accident once, an the top broke off! all that was left was one branch. I had lots of tomatoes from that branch.

  • Maggievanfossan Maggievanfossan on May 19, 2013
    There are two ways to induce more roots: 1) Lay the plants on its side - advantages are the roots are in warmer soil and may take off faster. The disadvantage is the roots dry out faster. Be vigilant about watering. 2) Remove lower leaves and bury the whole thing deeper than normal. The roots will grow along the the stem. Advantage is a bigger root system, disadvantage is the roots are planted lower in colder soil. WARNING - Don't bury a grafted tomato plant below the soil line. The graft must be above to keep from rotting. Allow grafted tomatoes plenty of room. They have massive root systems.

  • Sunnie Muir Campos Sunnie Muir Campos on May 19, 2013
    Growing upin Michigan, daddy taught us to always plant the seedlings this way. Buried right to first flower. It takes a bit for them to start growing up but when they take off they are much hardier. I plant mine this way down in Georgia now.

  • Katherine Rusler-Davis Katherine Rusler-Davis on May 19, 2013
    I planted mine that way and it did send up new plant shoots. I put crushed eggshells in the hole first and they are growing great. I am even starting to get flowers and one (so far) tomato on them. Also if you lightly brush the tops of your plants daily it make the stems stronger. I saw it online, called tickling your tomatoes.

  • Alisha Rushing Alisha Rushing on May 19, 2013
    I find it kinda funny that most vegans don't realize that most soils contain some bone meal. The soil you walk on in the forrest, and that the trees grow off of. Bone is as natural as you get.

  • Bea Snelleman Bea Snelleman on May 20, 2013
    Absolutely a good idea. I had the same problem and a farmer friend of mine suggested laying the plants down. I thought he was nuts, but tried it anyway., I ended up with a stronger plant and plenty of tomatoes

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 20, 2013
    Katherine, that's a old goodie, it not only makes your plants stronger, it aid in pollinating the plants. Just be very gentle when you do it.

  • Sleepy Maggie Sleepy Maggie on May 20, 2013
    Eggshells are great for calcium in the garden, and not just tomatoes but all members of the nightshade family (peppers and eggplant, too) benefit from it. Though do heed the advice about rinsing them, so that they don't attract flies and raccoons and possums (OTOH the smell of egg will keep the deer at bay for a week or two, if you're lucky!) I always put every eggshell I get into the compost. It helps break the compost up into a more fluffy texture, and this also gives the calcium more time to dissolve into the other organic matter.

  • Sheila Lynn Sheila Lynn on May 20, 2013
    I have always planted them much deeper than the leaves - usually at least 4 "branches" deep. Then you get those roots. I put diatomacious (I spelled that wrong) earth in to protect from cutworms, etc. Epsoms salts are great, so is bone meal. Good luck :D

  • D Burton D Burton on May 21, 2013
    epsom salt is great for reducing the shock to the root system, is also a fertilizer as well an insecticide. Should you need additional insecticide, mix Dr. Bronner's peppermint soap in a spray bottle. All you need is one capful.This is useful for all plants and very inexpensive after purchasing the liquid soap. This is considered an organic spray to kill insects without harmful chemicals.

  • Louise Louise on May 21, 2013
    OK, I just went outside to plant the tomato plant in the large container where I put my one pitiful plant each year. I have little sun in my yard and dogs who would trample anything planted in the ground. This one spot does OK for a tomato. The container was FULL of ants and little off-white things that I figure are ant eggs (??) and the poor little ants went running everywhere like crazy. I went ahead and dug a nice, deep hole, tossed in some bone meal I found in the garage, broke off the bottom several leaves and planted it. Was that a dumb thing to do with all of those ants?

  • Judy Judy on May 22, 2013
    Louise, sounds like you disturbed an ant nest. Hopefully they have all left for another location. I have the little, black ants in my garden & so far they have done no harm to any of my plants. If they bother you try sprinkling a light dusting of ground cinnamon on the soil around the plant. Ants don't like cinnamon.

  • Louise Louise on May 22, 2013
    Thanks. I'll try cinnamon. A lot of the ants dispersed, running for their little lives. They didn't know I didn't plan to kill them. :-( When I planted the tomato, I put a plastic cup around the base of the stem, having read that it keeps cut worms from eating the plant, and today when I went to check on things, the cup, which I had pushed a bit into the soil, was on the ground!!! (This planter is on top of a retaining wall.) Odd. So I put it back in place.

  • Katherine Rusler-Davis Katherine Rusler-Davis on May 24, 2013
    It was most likely a squirrel or a cat the displaced the cup. Cats will investigate turned soil and roll and dig in it. Just remember to put some crushed eggshells around your tomato plant. They need the calcium.

  • Louise Louise on May 24, 2013
    Probably a squirrel. Should have considered that. Lots of them are in the backyard trees. Do I need eggshells even tho I put bone meal in the soil?

  • Angela A Angela A on May 25, 2013
    my grandfather always grew marigolds from seed, then planted them in between the tomatoes to keep the unwanted bugs I do this now....seems to work good. adds a little pretty view too! ;-)

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 26, 2013
    Marigolds and nasturtiums are wonderful insect repellents. We interplant both in and amongst our veggies. You need the African marigolds which smell rather vile, to be effective. The veggies are food for your body, but the flowers are food for your soul. It's so nice to see their cheery presence when your in your garden :)

  • Jim Ginas Jim Ginas on May 26, 2013
    @ Catherine Smith: Thank you for the note on African marigolds! I've got Cucumbers growing on one end of a garden, tomatoes in the middle and Black Egg Plant and Suchini growing on the right side.... So when I plant these marigolds, I can plant them between all these? (Small area, so I'm not sure how ANY will really come out.)

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 27, 2013
    Always glad to help, Jim. :) African Marigolds get fairly tall. So, I suggest you plant your Marigolds on the outer edges of your rows. Your cukes, and zucchini will "spawl". You can gently lift their vines away from the flowers, no problem there. You also might want to consider planting some dill between your cukes and your tomatoes. Dill is also a repellant, plus it's a wonderful addition to your cooking. When grown it looks like bunches of green feathers. And smells heavenly. If you make dill pickles, fresh dill is a real plus to the flavor.

  • Marei Marei on May 31, 2013
    ...update - well since my first posting on 5/18 my tomato "babies" are growing like weeds and the largest is, alas getting a bit leggy. I will plant them both sideways today. Used mushroom compost when I first planted them in a container and wow...I highly recommend mushroom compost ! It's quite inexpensive and all plants seem to LOVE it. Have also chopped up a bit of orange peel, egg shells and the water from the egg boiling and placed it around the herb container they're in which includes Greek Oregano and Rosemary First small harvest of cherry tomatoes was yesterday - sweet and juicy. The herbs are looking beautiful too and taste great.

  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on Jun 01, 2013
    WTG, Marei. Yes, mushroom compost is great stuff, if you're in an area where it's available. ;)

  • Jim Ginas Jim Ginas on Jun 01, 2013
    WoooooW... Orange Peels..... So I put Orange peels in a container I use for coffee grinds, egg shells and also banana peels and my wife tells me the CITRUS is NOT Good for the plants..... Is this a misconception she has? Should I put the Orange Peels in that container or should I just throw them out? (I started throwing them to the woods behind the garden to see if the raccoons would eat them or if they actually keep rabbits away.)

  • Marei Marei on Jun 12, 2013
    I use orange peels chopped up and placed right on the surface of the soil (as you water or it rains, the citrus oils are gradually released into the soil) under my herb plants. It hasn't had any bad effects on them at all. The citrus oil is the good stuff that keeps parasites or critters away without harming anything. Yesterday, I chopped up some grapefruit peel and again placed it on the surface of the soil around my tomato plants...which I ended up having to plant sideways since they did get 'leggy' also, they developed that powder fungus so I used a combo of Seventh Generation natural dish liquid and a little less than a tablespoon of cayenne pepper in water, mixed it up, rubbed some of the mix on the leaves and the rest was used to water around the tomato plants. Citrus may not be good for some plants but so far, my herbs are giving it the 'thumbs up' for it...stay tuned for more on my tomatoes.... :-)

  • Jim Ginas Jim Ginas on Jun 12, 2013
    Ironic, so the orange peels I threw in the woods BEHIND my garden... they are still there.... was wondering if a critter or raccoon would eat them, but guess not! I'll do what you say about chopping them up and throwing them on top of the soil

  • Sheila Lynn Sheila Lynn on Jun 13, 2013
    I did not know about the orange peels. Thank YOU! I will be trying this today :D

  • Marei Marei on Jun 13, 2013
    Jim: the raccoons and other critters like rabbits won't eat them at all. Also the other things you are using like the coffee grounds, egg shells, etc are great. I also the other day after relocating the tomatoes used a bit of cod liver oil around the root system and then watered far the plants are doing well and the white powder fungus on the leaves is gone after my treatment with the cayenne/dish liquid mix. Good luck with it all!

  • Marei Marei on Jun 13, 2013
    Sheila: Yes! you are very welcome...nothing like natural parasite/critter deterents :-) I learned about the orange and other citrus peels on Pinterest. Lots of garden info there too but again it's what led me to it's a nice learning chain. Let me know what happens!

  • Marei Marei on Jun 13, 2013
    Hi Catherine, I just saw your post about me using mushroom compost - yes! it is terrific stuff and thanks for your other post about African Marigolds...I must plant these...thank you. :-)

  • Denise Warner Denise Warner on Jun 29, 2014
    Yes, it's a good idea to "trench" leggy tomato seedlings because they will grow roots all along the buried stem. If you want to avoid snapping the stem when you bend the tip up to be above ground (I did that once) you can lay it on its side--still in its pot--for a few days and the tip of the plant will naturally grow towards the sun. Then it's already "bent up" for you.