COMPLEAT HOME GARDENER: Plant tomatoes deep for good roots

By Marianne Binetti

The third week of June is still a busy time for planting, as it is not too late to plant dahlia tubers, lily and glad bulbs and to start growing tomatoes, cucumbers, squash and zucchini. You can grow short-season crops like carrots, lettuce and beans from seed planted this week but look for healthy transplants of cucumbers, tomatoes and squash at the nursery to give these heat-lovers a head start. Corn can also be planted by seed this week.

Get snippy with your lavender and rose plants once they finish a first flush of blooms and you’ll be rewarded with more flowers in a second flush of blooms.

Q. Is it true that tomatoes should be planted extra deep? How deep? Do you remove the leaves that will be under the soil? Beginning gardeners need to know this stuff. H.H., Tacoma

A. Yes, budding gardeners always bloom with the fertilizer of knowledge. When you add tall tomato plants to a garden bed or pot it helps the plant to build more roots (which makes a stronger plant) if you dig a deep hole or even a long trench and bury the stem of the tomato plant so that at least half the length of the stem is covered with soil. But first remove the leaves from the bottom half of the long stem. When foliage is removed the bump that is left is called the node, and this is where the new roots will sprout. When you dig a trench you can lie the tomato plant sideways into this shallow ditch and curve the top half of the plant upward so it remains above ground. Now here’s a warning: burying plants extra deep will kill most seedlings, perennials, trees and shrubs. Rhodies and azaleas especially hate to have a lot of soil or mulch on top of their fine roots. Tomatoes and potatoes are exceptions to this rule and like to be planted deep.

Q. How often should one turn a compost pile? I have green grass clippings and some old leaves in my first compost pile. I have also added some egg shells and weeds. Your opinion? P.P., Bonnie Lake

A. Dig in whenever you get the energy or need the exercise. For the fastest conversion of garden garbage into garden gold turn once a week, but laid back gardeners can take a slower route to riches and just let it rot naturally; compost will be ready in three weeks the fast way but it can take up to nine months if you just let it sit. Adding coffee grounds, old compost, grass clippings, sawdust and leaf mold to the pile will help it decompose faster and although egg shells and other slow-to-rot ingredients may take months to break down, the general rule of green thumb is that the smaller the pieces that go into the pile, the quicker they decompose. Turning the pile adds air which speeds up the process. Get rid of your free weights, give up the gym membership and learn how to build biceps the natural way – with a pitchfork in your hands. You and the garden will both grow stronger.

Q. What killed my clematis? The vine seemed perfectly fine one day then the next thing I knew it was severely wilted and is now really dead. I never saw any damage to the leaves nor signs of slugs. C.L., e-mail

A. Sounds like the heartbreak of clematis wilt disease to me. This fungal infection strikes quickly and there is no cure. But there is hope. Clematis that die from wilt disease have been known to come back from an underground root as long as three years after the funeral. To prevent clematis wilt do not bump or cultivate around the fragile stems of clematis plants. If you damage a stem near ground level the fungi that live in the soil may find an entry into the clematis vine. If you have kids or pets that share the garden protect those skinny clematis necks with a low barrier of twigs or wire fencing that can surround the base of the vines.

• • •

Marianne Binetti has a degree in horticulture from Washington State University and is the author of “Easy Answers for Great Gardens” and several other books. For book requests or answers to gardening questions, write to her at: P.O. Box 872, Enumclaw, 98022. Send a self-addressed, stamped envelope for a personal reply.

For more gardening information, she can be reached at her Web site,

Copyright for this column owned by Marianne Binetti.

We encourage an open exchange of ideas on this story's topic, but we ask you to follow our guidelines for respecting community standards. Personal attacks, inappropriate language, and off-topic comments may be removed, and comment privileges revoked, per our Terms of Use. Please see our FAQ if you have questions or concerns about using Facebook to comment.
blog comments powered by Disqus

Read the Oct 19
Green Edition

Browse the print edition page by page, including stories and ads.

Browse the archives.

Friends to Follow

View All Updates