The lone voice of horticultural reason

“When buying tomato plants, buy the biggest plants you can find.”

Only do this if you are interested in growing sub-par tomatoes.

It all comes back to a basic principle of gardening: The earlier in an annual plant’s development that you can get the plant into your ground, in your yard, where it is exposed to your soil type, your light conditions, and your gardening habits, the better.

People head to the garden center and see twelve- or sixteen-inch tomato plants next to eight-inch plants, and decide the taller plants are a better buy. I suppose they figure that the bigger the plant, the closer it is to producing fruit. I’ve even seen tomato plants for sale in flower, in three-gallon tubs, and watched people buy them. Oh boy, they think, we’ll have tomatoes for breakfast.

But think about this: If you were going to get a dog for your children, and had a choice between an eight-week-old puppy and a two-year old pound dog named Sid, which would you buy? Which dog would probably be happiest and safest around your children?

When you buy tomato plants, look for plants between eight and ten inches tall. They’re still toddlers, are a ways off from flowering, and will adapt earlier and better to your specific growing conditions. Taller plants have spent too long in a greenhouse’s ideal growing conditions, and they won’t like the shock of having to change their adolescent ways and adapt to your garden.

Smaller, eight- to ten-inch tomato plants will give you a bigger yield of tastier tomatoes during the season.

Don Engebretson
The Renegade Gardener