Garden of Eatin' / How-To / Vegetables

How to Transplant Tomatoes in a Trough

Tomatoes planted in a trough

So you’ve learned how to start your tomatoes from seed, transplant the seedlings, and do a second transplant into a larger container to build up the root system.

Now your well-developed tomato plant is ready to go in the ground, but if your plant looks anything like mine, digging a 2-foot-deep hole to bury the stem deeper is a little out of the question.

That’s when a method called troughing (or trenching) comes in handy.

Transplanting tomatoes in a trough involves a shallow transplant in the upper layer of soil where the richest nutrients are found, but still stimulates new roots to form along the length of stem that’s buried.

Since most of the root mass will be near the surface, water and fertilizer will reach the roots more evenly, and the warmer soil will induce plant growth.

Dig a shallow trench

Begin by digging a long trench (trough) about 4 to 6 inches deep, with a slightly deeper pocket on one end for the root ball.

Lay the tomato plant on its side in the trench

Lay the tomato plant on its side in the trench, taking care not to damage the stem. Pinch off the lower branches. You should end up with just a top cluster of healthy leaves and several more inches of bare stem.

Lay the tomato plant on its side in the trench

Cover the root ball and newly exposed stem with soil, up to the lowest branch. Fill in the areas around the rest of the plant with more soil, so that the trench is completely filled in and the soil is level. The plant will be oriented horizontally with its leaves and stem on the ground – don’t worry, this is what it’s supposed to look like for now.

Cover the bare stem with soil

Bury the stem up to its lowest branch

Water thoroughly. Within the next sunny day or two, the plant will start to reorient itself upright and will continue to grow vertically like normal. If you anticipate cloudy days following the transplant, you can set a rock under the stem to get it started in the right direction.

Tomato plant will reorient itself upright in a couple days

Once the plant is upright, you can stake it however you wish. If you have a few tomato plants growing next to each other, try the Florida Weave trellising method — my favorite way to prop everything up easily!

Linda Ly About Author

I'm a plant lover, passionate road-tripper, and cookbook author whose expert advice and bestselling books have been featured in TIME, Outside, HGTV, and Food & Wine. The No-Waste Vegetable Cookbook is my latest book. Garden Betty is where I write about modern homesteading, farm-to-table cooking, and outdoor adventuring — all that encompass a life well-lived outdoors. After all, the secret to a good life is... Read more »