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Grow Stockier, Bushier Tomato Plants This Year

My instructor at the New York Botanical Garden gave us a tip on growing the sturdiest tomato plants indoors, before transplanting them outdoors. This gives plants a head start on the growing season and a much better chance of surviving the transition from indoors to outdoors.

Tomatoes, unlike many plants, will grow roots right along their stems if the stem is buried. So, when transplanting to a larger pot indoors, you can practice what is called "trenching." It means turning the root ball of the plant on its side in the new pot, then gently forcing the stem upwards, and staking it if necessary. With each successive planting in a larger pot the soil comes right up to the bottom branches, resulting in a stockier, bushier plant when it comes time to plant outdoors. If you practice this, your tomato plant will have a thick stem by the time it’s warm enough to plant out.

Follow these instructions to learn how to trench your tomato plants. The photos were taken in my greenhouse.

Step One (below): Start with a tomato plant that needs a larger container.


Step Two: Tap the bottom corner of the pot on a hard surface to loosen the plant. If you need to pull the plant out of the container, pull gently by the lower leaves, not by the stem. (Leaves are more dispensable than the stem if you happen to damage one.)


Step Three: Lay the plant in the larger pot sideways.


Step Four: Bend the stem up gently.


Step Five: Fill in soil around the root ball and the stem. You can stake the stem if necessary, but I didn’t need to.


Step Six: Water with a weak solution of fertilizer.


The newly potted tomato plant will grow bushier and stockier than if you had not trenched it.


Note: The apron in the photo was designed by Felicity Miller for Womanswork. It is being sold at HomeGoods this spring, along with matching gloves and hats (also sold at TJMaxx and Marshalls). Gloves shown are Womanswork Nitrile Weeding Gloves.

Dorian Winslow is the president of Womanswork, and is passionate about making the best products on the market for women who garden and work outdoors.

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