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How to Plant Tomatoes: 8 Things I Put in the Tomato Planting Hole

Gardening is a great way to have access to fresh food all summer long and I think tomatoes are essential in every garden! While they grow without much hassle, there are a couple of tips that will help you get the most fruit possible off of every plant and it all starts with learning how to plant tomatoes the right way. These tips are so easy they fit perfectly with my lazy gardening ideals!

tomato seedlings

I’m no master gardener, but I am a perfectionist and very thorough in my research when I decide to tackle a project. It was no different when I decided to start gardening! As a result of all my reading, watching me plant a tomato is almost like watching me make a complicated recipe in my kitchen.

I scoured books and websites trying to find all of the tips and tricks to get the most out of a small garden without it overwhelming my life. 

How to Plant Tomatoes

Once you’ve figured out which variety of tomatoes you’re going to grow, and have either started your seeds indoors or purchased seedlings at a local greenhouse, it’s time to start thinking about how you’re going to transfer them into your garden.

If you’re planting directly into the soil and have tomato varieties that grow tall, make sure you think ahead and have something to stake them to as they grow. Varieties that stay small are great for container gardening and you can place them on your deck or patio.

When to Plant Tomatoes Outside

Tomatoes are definitely warm weather plants and will not appreciate being put outside too early! Make sure to wait until the nighttime temperatures in your area stay above 50 degrees and the risk of frost is very low. A late frost can kill the plant, so experts recommend you watch the weather forecast in late spring.

If you can check the temperature with a soil thermometer, make sure it’s above 60 degrees.

tomato planting in soil

Dig a Deep Hole for the Tomato Plant

Dig your hole deep enough! You want only the top leaves of the tomato to be sticking out. You will feel like an idiot burying all those beautiful green leaves on the bottom of your plant, especially if you worked hard to grow them yourself. It’s important, though, because the plant will grow roots from the entire stem, making its gripping system stronger and feeding system able to consume more nutrients from the soil.

Plant the Tomato Sideways in the Hole

This little trick is also to help the plant send out more roots. You simply dig the planting hole so that you can place the tomato in and the stem goes along the ground. This way it has the opportunity to put roots down the whole way.

Plant your Tomato with Fertilizer

If you want the most yield, don’t skip this step! When you put proper items in the hole, you’ll have natural tomato fertilizer all season long. The extra nutrients will help the plant grow strong, tall, and bear a lot of tomatoes! 

tomato fertilizer items

8 Things I put in my Tomato Plant Holes (Other than the Tomato Plant) for Awesome Yield:

  1. banana peel
  2. fish head/bones/eggshells
  3. composted manure
  4. 1 tsp sugar
  5. ¼ cup Espoma GardenTome organic fertilizer
  6. Epsom salts*
  7. baking soda*
  8. nonfat dry milk*

*Recipe for tomato blight preventer: Mix 3 cups compost, 1/2 cup powdered nonfat milk, 1/2 cup Epsom salts, and 1 Tbsp baking soda. Sprinkle a handful into each planting hole, and put some powdered milk on the soil every few weeks throughout the growing season.

RELATED: How to Get Rid of Tomato Blight

Use a Cutworm Collar at the Base of Tomato Plants

Prevent a problem before it even starts! Certain insects sure love tomato plants, so cut the bottom out of a plastic food container like cottage cheese or sour cream, and place the remaining ring down into the dirt around your plant’s stem. The top should crest the surface by a half-inch at least. Cutworms can only travel on the surface of the dirt, so they can’t get near the plant’s stem with this barrier. (see photo below)

Most of my homemade gardening solutions and tips are from Jerry Baker’s Terrific Garden Tonics book that I checked out of the library when I decided I wanted to garden, copied what I needed and took back. I also grabbed some of his many other books, but I can’t recall which ones. My gardening tub in the garage is full of all sorts of weird stuff as a result, from tea bags and mouthwash to cheap beer and tobacco (I felt the need to explain to the cashier that this purchase was for my garden!).

water jug in soil for watering tomatoes

The Best Watering System for Tomatoes

My Grandpa’s tomato planting tip is the most brilliant way to water tomatoes in the world. Tomatoes don’t really appreciate their leaves getting wet, so watering at the base of the plant is important. While you are busy planting your tomatoes, go one step further and bury a plastic jug, like a milk jug, next to each plant. (Before burying, use scissors or a kitchen knife to puncture holes in it on the bottom and sides.) After the jug is buried, just fill it with water from your hose, and it goes right to the roots of the plant.

At the end of the season, you can easily string up the jugs and cutworm collars and hang them in your garage until next year.

RELATED: Growing Heirloom Tomatoes virtual course – learn everything there is to know about growing the best heirloom tomatoes in your garden!

woman in tomato garden

In case I’ve done such a good job of talking up my brown thumb that you might not want tomato tips from me, they are the one thing I was absolutely successful with. Three years ago, my five plants grew nearly as big as me and twice as wide, and I had more tomatoes than I knew what to do with (thankfully I’ve learned to can tomatoes)!

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Are you planting tomatoes this year? What is your best tomato planting tip?


Ready to get your hands dirty? Here are some more Gardening Posts from KS:

Unless otherwise credited, photos are owned by the author or used with a license from Canva or Deposit Photos.
Category: Gardening

42 thoughts on “How to Plant Tomatoes: 8 Things I Put in the Tomato Planting Hole”

  1. June 27, 2023.

    Is their a substitute for powdered nonfat milk to put in the hole for tomato? The powdered milk is expensive here in Windsor, Ontario.

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Not that I know of, you can just skip that one and use whatever other ingredients you can get a hold of from the list. Good luck!

  2. I just planted 3 tomato plants and sure wish I had seen your suggestions first. I’m going to try to place a collar around the base and maybe a jug for water too!! Next year I will try to remember to lay my plants sideways. Thank you for all the helpful information!

    1. Carolyn @ Kitchen Stewardship

      Seeing your comment come through reminded me about these tips! I have a few tomato plants in the ground already as well. Good luck with your gardening this summer Becky!

    2. I sure would like some suggestions to keep the tomato worms from killing my tomatoes. In California not much problem. On East Coast that’s another story. I’ve tried many things with no success. Help!

  3. Thanks for the comment about kerping rhe tomato plants cool by lwtting them grow in a heap. I was just trying to figure out how to keep my plants cool enough. Already topping 100 at my house too.

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  5. GREAT information in this blog post. I cam across while trying to figure out why Pinterest has recommended I put baking soda on my tomato plats. Anyways, doesn’t sound like a good idea now that I’ve done some research…

  6. My amendment of choice for the bottom of my tomato holes is organic kelp powder. When I use kelp, I never have problems with insects or diseases on my tomatoes. (If I don’t, blossom end rot is common to my area.)

  7. I don’t see how using powdered milk in the soil would be bad for US. It’s likely there to 1) supply calcium (so yes, eggshells would work), and 2) feed soild microbes, which eggshells won’t do. Plants and soil microbes have very different needs than we do, so automatically assuming because something is bad for us it is bad for them is oversimplifying. Take the phosphates in graywater, for example. Phosphates are poison to animals, but plants need them.

    I know I’ll be trying these tips- I fight with blight every year!

  8. Just curious about the powdered milk… How do you know if it has been GMO or not? Milk is fairly easy to tell but not the powder. Plus if it is the calcium in it that does the trick, or potassium from the banana peel, then egg shells may be the way to go if they are organic.

    Also, wondering about the Rhubarb comment… one has to be careful as there is wild rhubarb which is poisonous and if I am not mistaken there is some of that poison in the leaves (just like you can’t eat potato plants or eat green potatoes – deadly nightshade poison).

    As to the plastic from the milk jugs – make sure that it is BPA free.

    I guess what I am saying is although there are natural ways to help your plants along and make sure they are growing well – we need to make sure the items we use to do that are also good for us.

    1. re rhubarb
      yes are toxic to eat ,they contain oxalic acid BUT boil them with a few Garlic segments cool and strain makes a great spray for bugs and especialy cabbage moth,those pesky white butter fly type .
      I use coke bottles 1.5 litre type {no never drink the stuff} drill 3 to 4 1/8 inch holes in the lid, cut off the base and bury beside the tomatoe plant and water via this means ,no need to hose and keeps the chance of fungus away
      Water via this with a watering can ,can add tomato booster or liquid fertilizer , sea weed washed and put in a drum makes a great feed for them,also can be spread around the garden , worms love it ,,IF you live near the sea.
      found that these work for me here in Australia

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  10. I save my banana peels all winter and put them in the holes with the powdered milk i also save my eggshells for my tomatoes it has something to do with the calcium I believe. We have severe blight in our area so I hope the milk helps. Good luck everyone lou

  11. I saw Laurie’s link to her trellising, but I’m curious how you stake your tomatoes!
    .-= Jennie´s last blog ..Food & Faith Challenge: Money =-.

  12. I think my parents have this book – but I just requested two or three of his from the library while reading your post!

    I’m having to re-plant my tomatoes and peppers this weekend, so this is a very timely post! Thank you!

    And fantastic comments too, by the way . . .

    .-= Sarah´s last blog ..Happy Weekending! =-.

  13. Lenetta @ Nettacow

    I’m always learning something over here. :>) I linked to this on my weekly roundup, thanks as usual!
    .-= Lenetta @ Nettacow´s last blog ..Inaugural Garden Update (Week 3, Sigh) =-.

  14. Oh, can you please be more specific about banana peel … do you put the whole thing in or cut it up? how many per plant? It’s our first year having a community garden.
    It’s funny, because we have planted our tomatoes the day before your post and we were eating bananas right before planting… we put the banana peels in our neighbors compost bin:) Wish your post was 1 day earlier:))

    1. Maria,
      Whole peel, one per plant! I also stick one every so often into the dirt around the plant as it grows bigger. You can add them anytime! 🙂 Katie

  15. A PLASTIC milk jug?!?!


    Who are you and what did you do with our beloved Katie?!

    (If you write a post about how much you LOVE to do dishes I’ll KNOW that you are an imposter!)

    Teasing aside, I suggest checking out ollas as a future garden purchase. Ollas will do the same thing as the milk jug but will look prettier (and your loyal readings won’t wonder if you’ve been abducted by plastic-loving-commercial aliens!)

    Link to more on ollas

    1. Oh, my goodness, Julie, you’re cracking me up! I have to buy milk for yogurt beyond what we can afford in raw, you know…plus, these jugs are from three years ago when I wasn’t quite so crunchy. LOL Katie

  16. Lisa Imerman

    Sounds like a neat way to plant tomatoes, I am going to use the jug trick!!

    However, I don’t have or use powdered milk as it isn’t particularly healthy, so I am not sure I want to put it in my soil either. Wonder what it does, would it be for the calcium cause the eggshells sound better to me for that???

    1. Lisa,
      I don’t use it in cooking either, but I really don’t think it could hurt the plants. It’s a disease fighter anyway, not a fertilizer, although I’m not exactly sure what in the powdered milk fights the disease. Maybe it was in the book I started with by Jerry Baker?

  17. I agree with Tammy. I hope you do a post on your dehydrated sauce soon. I live in Florida and I am up to my eyeballs in tomatoes and could use some creative way to preserve them since I am lacking canning equipment. Please share soon! 🙂

    1. Katie,
      If you have a dehydrator, just slice and dry until crisp. Blend to a powder, and that can be reconstituted to make any tomato sauce/paste/juice product. You might be able to dehyd in a low-temp oven, too.
      Hope you can use up all those ‘maters! 🙂 Katei

  18. This year we did some fishing so I planted mine with fish. We’ll see how they do. I had one plant mysteriously disappear ~ I’m wondering if something dug it up for the fish… but all the others were fine so I don’t know. I also use gallon jugs or 2 liter bottles depending what I have on hand.
    .-= Jackie´s last blog ..The Sales Funnel Simplified =-.

  19. We do tomatoes in pots up on our balcony to keep them away from the deer. Sometimes enterprising squirrels do find them though. Even watering is really important with potted tomatoes; they dry out really fast. When we are overwhelmed with tomatoes we wash them and pop them into the freezer whole. During the winter pull them out and as they thaw the skins will slip right off. Add them to soups, stews or pasta sauce for a really fresh grown tomato taste.
    .-= marcella´s last blog ..Baby Quilt =-.

  20. Great growing tips! But I am most interested in your last comment about dehydrating tomatoes for powder to make sauce… please do share the details.

    1. Tammy,
      It’s Excalibur week right not, so watch for a new post in the next 7 days or so! 🙂 Katie

  21. Eggshells! My grandmother (who spends ALL her time gardening now) told me that tomatoes love eggshells. I keep all mine and mash them up and put them around the tomato plants. I don’t know how well it works because I’ve always gotten a TON of tomatoes. I have a mostly green thumb. 🙂
    .-= Kate´s last blog ..Fried Potatoes with Broccoli and Cheese =-.

  22. keely aka LKP

    hey, great post! thanks a ton for the tips. they sound like just the trick. we just moved to a new house, but i’m hoping i can still get some stuff in the ground here. =)
    .-= keely aka LKP´s last blog ..This Brightened My Day! =-.

  23. I have been growing tomatoes in Las Vegas for 3 years now, and we need to do things a little different here in the desert as temperatures are already approaching the 100 degree mark. The main thing is I’ve learned not to stake my tomato plants. If I let them grow in a heaping mess, they look horrible, but they create their own cooling system. The air under the plant stays nice and cool and moist. I’ve been harveting tomatoes already for about 2 weeks here, and the vines are FULL… here’s to hoping for a bumper crop! Best of luck with your garden this year!

    1. Hello. Hopefully your still around on here to see this. But I wanted to ask for your help as I live in St. George Utah, just a little more than an hour north of Vegas and our temperature is just about the same as Vegas. Can you share with me some of your tips about tomato growing in this weather. I fear mine are dying. Thank you

  24. I’m growing around 30 heirloom tomato plants in the garden that I started from seed (I can quite a bit, mostly salsa and sauce). I like to trellis my tomatoes and sometimes I use old vinegar containers filled with water as a wind block (we get a lot of wind) and to help create a micro-climate near the tomatoes (because they store the heat of the sun). I generally water with soaker hoses run under mulch along the row of tomatoes.

  25. These are great tips! I am just beginning to learn how to grow things and am looking for any help I can find! Thanks!
    .-= Robin´s last blog ..Reset to Default: Reclaiming Our Natural Health =-.

    1. When I plant I add torn seaweed sheets (the kind used to make sushi) and water with a diluted solution of water and apple cider vinegar.

  26. My father in law (who has owned his own landscaping business for over 20 years) told me once that tomatoes (as well as roses) love human hair. Fortunately, my mother in law cuts hair for a living so I can go raid her trash can at work any time I am planting tomatoes or roses. Just one more thing to put down in the hole if you want to. Although, Im not sure why they like hair? Anyone know?

    1. Kristin,
      I know that human hair keeps moles out of the garden when it’s buried around the edge, but I didn’t know that about tomatoes! 🙂 Katie

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