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Optimum planting out size?

Posted by bart1 6/7 Northern VA (My Page) on
Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 18:42

Is there a perfect size for a tomato plant to be transplanted outside?

Last year I probably started my plants too early and ended up with some/most/all being about 2 feet tall by the time I planted them out. I ended up losing a bunch of plants that snapped off at the ground in some high winds. One thing I learned was that the plants that I staked at planting time did fine, the ones that weren't staked, snapped off.

Anyhow I vaguely remember Dave/digdirt posting something about the optimal size for transplanting, but I don't remember the details.

Is there such a thing as too big? I always figured, the bigger they were when they started, the quicker they'd produce.

Thanks!


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Optimum planting out size?

  • Posted by digdirt 6b-7a North AR (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 19:03

Standard recommendation is 6-8". They can be transplanted at a smaller size and many do - weather permitting, but larger plants tend more toward transplant shock and other sources of stress and delayed adjustment. Survival rate may decline.

Most studies show that the smaller but less stressed transplants will quickly catch up and pass the older but more stressed plants.

the bigger they were when they started, the quicker they'd produce.

Sounds good in theory but not in practice since the days to maturity are from the date of transplanting, not the day of seeding and can be delayed the longer it takes the plant to adjust to the transplanting.

Dave


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

  • Posted by bart1 6/7 Northern VA (My Page) on
    Thu, Mar 13, 14 at 19:18

Thanks Dave!!

When you write your book, I'll buy the first 10 copies!!


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

Dave is correct in that DTM are given from transplant date but the truth is that the most accurate date to calculate when a plant will yield ripe fruit is not transplanting date but flowering date and the sooner you can generate abundant flower clusters on healthy plants the sooner you'll be picking tomatoes. I believe that older plants WHICH HAVE BEEN PROPERLY CARED FOR will be in a better condition to not only survive transplanting, but will also respond with continued growth more quickly, especially if trench planted, and certainly bloom sooner.

The problem with many tomato growers is the failure to adequately care for plants in weeks 5 to 12 of plant growth. The plants need abundant light, adequate root space and even external stimulation to strengthen the stems. To do the task properly one almost should have a greenhouse with circulation fans although that isn't always a necessity.

Just think about the advanced growth potted tomato plants that you see available in certain stores for a premium price. Those plants often have green fruit already hanging on them. You may need to plant them to a larger pot or larger hole in the soil but they will be conditioined to make the next more without any serious setback. I know this because I've sold many of these type plants and the buyers raved about how well they grow.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I would normally plant out 6-9 inch plants, weather permitting, b'c I find they adapt earlier and quicker than if taller plants are used.

There were years when weather did not permit me to do that and yes, sometimes I had almost two foot plants.

If it got really bad I'd take off all foliage leaving just a tuft of top growth, since removing the foliage cuts down on energy production from photosynthesis that allows for more plant growth.

When really tall I'd also plant them horizontally, not vertically, just leaving a bit of top growth above the soil level, The advantage to doing that also allows for new roots to form all along the buried stem, which is also good.

Holding back on water and trying to lower the temps where the plants were never worked well for me at all.

Carolyn


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I have some 6-9" transplants ready to plant, now that the weather is good here. Should I plant them normally now, or let them grow taller, strip off the lower leaves, and bury part of the stem, to encourage a better root system? I'm in the desert and want a deep root system, so would it be advantageous in the long run to delay, even if that delays my first fruits? Thanks.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

  • Posted by digdirt 6b-7a North AR (My Page) on
    Fri, Mar 14, 14 at 13:12

Deep vertical transplanting to bury most of the stem is always beneficial for tomato plants. That is standard practice.

But the plants don't have to be taller to do that. Too tall plants require trenching in on the horizontal and deep vertical transplanting is always preferable when possible.

And you can but don't have to strip off the leaves. You simply dig the hole deep enough that only the top cluster of leaves - the growth tip - is above the soil level and bury the rest.

Dave

PS: thanks for the offer Bart but even writing a garden blog as I used to do, much less a book, just opens you to all sorts of personal criticisms and attacks that you can't respond to.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I absolutely agree with bmoser in the statement - " I believe that older plants WHICH HAVE BEEN PROPERLY CARED FOR will be in a better condition to not only survive transplanting, but will also respond with continued growth more quickly, especially if trench planted, and certainly bloom sooner. "

I live in a zone where I could not ripen very many of the long season tomatoes if I did not have larger, more mature plants at set-out time. The key is to keep potting up to a larger container BEFORE the plant's growth goes into a stall because of being rootbound in a small cell or pot.

This is not practical for many people because it takes up more indoor space for larger pots, including light requirements, and means more fussing around which may not be possible time wise if you grow large numbers of plants.

There is a big difference in putting out a skinny scrawny nutrient deprived root bound 12 inch plant which has already been put into a growth stall phase because of a near solid root ball, and a large, sturdy plant that has been kept in active growth without it's roots hitting the wall, so to speak. As some have said, a shorter, younger plant that has not been subjected to cramped roots as long as a taller, older plant in the same sized pot, will catch up quickly once they both hit the garden soil. However, that is not the same as planting a larger plant without stressed roots. As far as root disturbance, my experience has been that tomatoes are among the most forgiving of plants and potting up several times does no harm, you can see them continuing to send up new growth within a day or two of each re-potting.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I want to ask this honest question from those who say smaller plants are better. And I would appreciate an honest answer:

Suppose you buy your plants from nurseries. You go to one. They have plants from 6" to 12" . They are good and healthy including the 12" ones. and they are sold at the same price.

WHICH /WHAT SIZE WOULD YOU CHOOSE ?


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

Too tall plants require trenching in on the horizontal and deep vertical transplanting is always preferable when possible.

I've tried both methods in my garden, and compared root balls at the end of the season. The deep vertical transplanted plants had root systems that looked like a dog bone - a ball of roots where the original root ball was, a ball of roots near the surface, and few, if any, roots in between. The horizontally transplanted (trenched) plants had dense roots all along the buried stem. Based on this, I concluded that trenching is the way to go, at least in my growing conditions.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I think growing in your conditions, as you said, is important.

Trenching gives a very shallow root system, while vertically planted ones does give a deep root system, and I lived and grew tomatoes in CO for 10 years in Denver and the soil was good enough to plant upright and I never found what you called dog bone roots, gotta love it.

I'm not sure where you are in CO but you know it can be as dry as can be for long periods of time so having deep roots is preferable.

It also depends on how many plants one is growing. When I moved back home to NYS I was growing hundreds of plants and varieties each year and no way was I going to crawl along those 250 ft long rows to trench plants.

If growing just a few plants for home use, then the pros and cons of each way need to be considered based on soil, rainfall and so many other variables.

Hope that helps,

Carolyn


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

Hi Carolyn, I'm in Boulder. I moved here from upstate NY, so it sounds like we've moved in opposite directions! I assumed that the root growth near the surface was due to early season soil temperatures, with the roots primarily growing in the warmest soil. I suppose it could have to do with watering or something else.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

  • Posted by digdirt 6b-7a North AR (My Page) on
    Tue, Mar 18, 14 at 11:39

Suppose you buy your plants from nurseries. You go to one. They have plants from 6" to 12" . They are good and healthy including the 12" ones. and they are sold at the same price.

WHICH /WHAT SIZE WOULD YOU CHOOSE ?

First I would look at the stem diameter and the internode lengths and compare those. Second, I would pop one of them out of the cell pack and see how rootbound they were.

Then assuming they had good sturdy stems and a normal internode length and weren't overly rootbound, I would buy the plants that were approx. 8" tall. Tall enough that I can strip off the bottom set of leaves and bury them deep.

I would NOT buy the 12" tall plants unless they were an unusual variety that I just had to have because if they were still in cellpacks I know they are already root bound and stressed so will need special care in transplanting.

Dave


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

I live in the hot and humid Ms. Delta and grow my tomatoes from seed. I only pot up once to 4 inch pots. Plant seed on Valentines Day and pot up first or second week of March. They go in greenhouse and I try to keep the night temp above 40 degrees. I try to plant to garden first or second week of April. That depends on the weather. If I have to hold the plants longer because of weather conditions the plants sometimes get to be 12" or larger in the 4" pots. I don't think I have ever had root bound plants. I have planted both horizontally and vertically. I find that planting vertically works best for me. I try to get the roots down as far as possible removing all but the top leaves. I think that deep planting keeps the roots cooler in our hot early summers.


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RE: Optimum planting out size?

"Just think about the advanced growth potted tomato plants that you see available in certain stores for a premium price. Those plants often have green fruit already hanging on them."

Tomato plants have a juvenile phase and a reproductive phase. Once the plant transitions from juvenile, it never goes back. This is critically important because a tomato plant grows fastest while it is still juvenile. Once the first flowers form, the transition to reproductive phase limits further growth. Why is this important? The biggest plants produce the most tomatoes! You don't get the biggest plants when you buy those "premium price" plants that already have tomatoes on them. So feel free to pay that premium price and harvest 1/4 as many tomatoes as I get setting out my 6 to 8 inch seedlings.

There is a caveat to the above. If you are gardening in a seasonally limited area, growing plants in large containers and then setting them out in the garden will advance your season. It is important when doing this to keep the plant growing vigorously and don't let it set flowers. If this is done properly, even very long season varieties can be grown in short season areas and production will rival anything growers in other climes can do.

As I have written on my website, the mantra of the tomato grower should be "Small but Healthy!"


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