how we plant our tomatoes

Speaking of tomatoes, would you like to see how we set up our tomato patch? We’ve tried lots of different methods, from simply sticking the plants into the ground, to using that fancy red plastic mulch (which doesn’t work at all), but this is our absolute favorite method because it really gets water to the roots. It’s a method adapted to our needs from the book, How to Grow World Record Tomatoes (an excellent read). Grown this way we easily get 6 foot – 10 foot tomato plants each year, organically of course!

First we bought a few yards of drainage pipe (like PVC pipe with 1/2″ holes drilled into it) and cut it into 18″ lengths. Then after tilling the beds, we dig a hole with the post hole digger on either side of where the tomato plant will be planted.
Place a length of pipe into the hole.
Fill the hole back up with dirt (but not in the pipe!).
filling in
And place our custom made five foot tomato cages on either side (made with wire fencing). We even have a few cages that are twice as high for our larger 10 foot plants.
the tomato set up
Try this method this summer. You won’t believe how getting the water down to the roots that deep affects the tomatoes. We used to use the small, store bought cages for our tomato plants and now after applying this method, we definately need our hefty custom cages.


Filed under Tomato, what we've learned

79 responses to “how we plant our tomatoes

  1. Great tip for the tomato’s!!

  2. Great idea for the tomato’s!

  3. This is impressive. I hope you post photos occasionally through the season. I can’t wait to see them.

  4. First let me say that I have been enjoying your blog. I also live in Sonoma County and enjoy reading about what my fellow local gardeners are up to. I really like what you’ve done with your tomato plants. I think I might give the buried drainage pipe a shot in my garden this year. i haven’t got my plants in the ground yet. Hopefully this weekend. I look forward to watching you garden progress.


  5. sjones71

    Very cool. Not a tip I’ve seen before. I’ve been hoping to set up a soaker hose system for my garden (which is fairly small.. only 21X21), but this would be a very simple way to get crazy water to the tomatoes right at the root. Definitely going to give this a try.

  6. Pingback: how we plant our tomatoes « A Sonoma Garden « Compostings

  7. Rick

    That is a great suggestion. I think I will try it this year. Can you tell me about how many inches away from the tomato plant stem you place the two pipes?

  8. asonomagarden

    Hi Rick, we place them roughly 18 inches away from the stems. We put them in between each plant in our tomato row.

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  11. Krista

    This is so great. I love the pipe idea. We usually bury coffee cans or barring that, yogurt containers with the bottoms cut off. Then we water into those. Usually 2 containers for each plant. It does really make a difference, that and a heavy mulch. Do you use a fertilizer mid-season at all? Liquid kelp or anything like that? I’ve neglected that this year, but still seem to be doing not bad. I think we’d have had more fruit if I was to have fertilized though.

  12. Windsor Cindy


    I put in deep pipes for my dwarf fruit trees and am watering them with rinse water from the kitchen which I am amazed to discover I have an abundance of, about 2 buckets per time working in the kitchen. After thinking I wouldn’t have enough water this way I now believe I have a surfeit an am anxious to put in deep pipes for my tomatoes and possible zucchini and other fruiting plants.
    My question is, how often do you water your plants? I pour the water down the pipe and it promptly disappears and I have no idea how moist it’s staying down there around the tree roots.
    I have thought about getting a moisture meter but thought I’d ask you what your experience has been with general frequency of watering with this method. I don’t want to overwater.


    • asonomagarden

      Hi Windsor Cindy,
      We watch how the tomatoes are doing and water based on that. We’ve found that with our soil and climate that doing a deep watering once a week is all we need to do. We do fill up the pipes a few times during that watering so we give them plenty of water. I love your idea of using kitchen water scraps to water with. I was going to use watering cans to hold water scraps, but buckets would be much better. It’s amazing how all that water adds up, isn’t it? Thanks for the comment.

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  15. rt

    hi, my question is how do you guys fertilize these tomato plants, with liquid fertilizer, down the pipes or on top,around the plant or how? I put in the pipes last night, and wired it up, just 1 plant in the ground now though, and 9 others in 5 gallon pots cherry tomatoes.
    thanks rt

    • asonomagarden

      Hi rt. We don’t fertilize them at all. We condition the soil well before we put them in and then they are on their own. We do add compost around them mid season, but other than that we just give them tough love and water.

  16. redruzek

    I implemented the PVC pipe watering suggestion and have had the greatest crop of tomatoes in 20 years!!!

    I live in ND where the summer was very cool but despite the weather, I watered
    every other day and have never seen anything like this years crop. And, I night add, not blight, worms, disease of any kind.

    Thank you.


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  18. Gerald Brown

    Hello! I live in New Zealand and as I’m semi-disabled I grow tomatoes in plastic buckets.Your set-up looks really great.I water in two ways. Either by hand with hose, or with plastic lemonade bottles.Just fill with water, put tissue in top of bottle, and stuff into bucket.It releases water very slowly.I’m going to try your idea next year.

  19. Mike

    I will try your watering tubes. I found the concrete reinforcement fence is perfect for tomatoes. I have used it for years and I also use the fence to grow melons on – it works great!

  20. This is wonderful!! We are trying it tomorrow with the tomatoes. We live in Argentina so it is spring. My husband made mini ones to put in the hanging flower baskets. They work great! Thank you for the info!!

  21. Bugnuker

    Looks like it would be an awesome way of getting nutrients to the roots as well

  22. Looks awesome! Interestingly, I know two people who sewar byt he red mulch. Haven’t tried it myself.

  23. Reblogged this on bewitchingdragon and commented:
    Great Idea

  24. Mary Thornburg

    Hi love the idea for the tomatoes.I have one question 18 ” pcp pipe i/2″ holes down the pipe how many and how far apart?

    • Gary

      If you read the whole article and replies :


      April 24, 2008 at 4:38 am

      Hi Rick, we place them roughly 18 inches away from the stems. We put them in between each plant in our tomato row.

      • Shelly

        If you reread:
        Mary Thornburg

        February 5, 2012 at 2:15 pm

        Hi love the idea for the tomatoes.I have one question 18 ” pcp pipe i/2″ holes down the pipe how many and how far apart?

        I believe she is asking how many 1/2 inch holes and how many down the pipe. I’m curious myself.

  25. Gillian

    Excellent idea! Good for fruit trees when first planted?

  26. ijensen

    I have concrete block raised gardens and I am anxious to try this!!! I find that with the raised gardens, many times the water runs down the sides and out the bottom. I’m sure this will slow down the water and make it dispurse more evenly. It appears the pipe is about a 3″ dia. wouldn’t you think?

    Thanks for sharing the great idea!!!!

  27. Cool tips…I’m wondering if logic follows, I could plant a tomato at the top of one of those strawberry pots, then the water would go in each level as I watered those? I don’t know if Tomatoes and Strawberries play nice though…hmm…maybe little onions…

  28. Esther

    Just wondering how this could work in Oregon, where it rains 1/2 the summer and we have heavy clay soil? We usually do not have to water at all.

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  30. manicmommy42

    I realize that I am 4 years late to the party (thank you Google search) but I was wondering if you have any pictures of what the plants look like once they’ve grown in there. I’m a gardening beginner and I have some plants that I bought already mostly grown (so I’d have SOMETHING this year) and I seemed to damage them by trying to get them into the store bought cages. I’m a visual person, so any photos you have would be awesome.

  31. Ernest Fields

    What would happen if you planted 3 or 4 plants on the outside of you wire support and tied them to the wire for support. Put lawn clippings inside the wire as a mulch ( keep moist) and let it form compost over the summer and winter. add another 18″ tube for the additional plants. you loose a lot of growing space with 1 plant on the inside of the wire.

  32. Lynda

    Please DON’T use PVC (polyvinyl chloride) – the production of PVC creates and releases one of the most toxic chemicals – dioxin. PVC products can leak harmful additives during use and when they are burned or BURIED.

    • Kathy

      Glad to see I’m not the only one who had that instant thought. I’ve been pondering alternatives, as the function presented here is fantastic; the materials used are worrisome. I can’t think of something easy to find that would be made of inert food grade plastic and have this shape. Probably a better choice would be found in a plumbing supply store, utilizing polyethylene (PEX) pieces.

      • Sharon

        One year we used empty 2 litre pop bottles, upside down with the bottom cut off. We had a much better crop of tomatoes that year, probably due to the deeper watering. I hope the pop bottles didn’t break down into dangerous chemicals, though…

    • Ernest Fields

      PVC pipe contains no plasticizers like all the flexible Vinyl materials. It is all approved for potable water. I doesn’t break down in use and also a slime coating forms on the surface that is like a protective coating. It is not PVC touching the water after initial use. Most new homes in the U.S.A. have PVC piping. Lack of plasticizers is what makes the PVC rigid and usable as grow tubes.

    • Missy

      Lynda, do you have any alternative ideas to using the pipes?

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  34. elisabeth

    I got so excited about the pipe idea but my mind automatically went to planting the tomatoes into the pipes so the gopher guys would not demolish and drag the plants down and under. I am certain this method of watering is very effective. I am still on the gopher problem, the only way I can keep chasing them from one place to an other is by flooding them out from under cherry trees and other wonderful plants. I really do not want to harm the critters but it is a constant battle here in the Sierra Foothills in No California.

  35. Debra

    The two folksy remedies for gophers that I remember my grandmother using were placing whirlygigs or pinwheels in the garden (supposedly the little critters do not like the vibration) and the second one is putting human hair in the runs (the human scent deters them–she had a beautician friend who gladly supplied her with plenty of hair).

    • Barney

      use colorine tablets for the pool. Break up a round 3″ tablet into little pieces and place 2 or 3 in the hole as you water for the gopher. They will leave asap.

  36. roy


  37. Phyllis

    Elisabeth, on the gopher problem, we have very heavy gophers or moles in all the yards around us but not a one in our yard. We have 2 (indoor) daschunds and just the sound of them in the yard for a short time every day drives the undergrown critters away. The hair tip also works. Hair acts as an itching powder that they can’t stand so they pack up and move next door too. Happy hunting.

  38. jennifer

    planted my tomato plants today. I used black pvc pipe. I have not had a garden in about 30 years. I really hope this works because my husband is a disbeliever. Gotta show him he’s wrong

  39. Suzanne

    I suggest using septic system drain field pipe…the holes are already made in pvc pipe. Previously Ihave used the pipe in my compost bins for air circulation. I am replacing all of my fruit trees dead or dying from recent years of drought (NW TX) and now will definitely use it for each new tree…as well as my tomatoes. I have a rain harvest system and this idea will dovetail beautifully. Thank you for the great tip.

    • roy


  40. Judy

    I thought about an easy way to keep the soil from falling in to these pipes -just cover them with pantyhose! You can even pour water from the top through the panty hose, but putting the pipe into a “leg” then burying it would be a simple fix for looser soils. What do you think?

  41. maryann

    Very excited about this method of watering. My garden will be twice it’s normal size this year. This maybe a silly question but i am assuming you use this watering technique with all your plants?

  42. Suzanne Hyden

    This seems like a Great Idea. I am definitely going to try this. I was going to plant them this weekend so this was perfect timing

  43. brilliant! but, as I was about to do this in my new raised bed I learned that PVC pipes can leach vinyl chloride, a known carcinogen – so you do not want to use that in the garden!!

    To be safe use a UPVC, copper or galvanized steel pipe =)

  44. Early-Era PVC
    “Early-era” PVC refers to PVC pipe manufactured prior to 1977. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), early-era PVC can leach VCM into drinking water to levels that exceed the maximum contaminant level of 2 micrograms per liter of water.

    PVC Today
    Starting in 1977, PVC pipe manufacturers drastically improved their manufacturing processes to reduce VCM levels in manufactured pipe. Some PVC pipe is manufactured to a specification called “NSF-61” or “NSF-PW,” specifically for use in applications involving drinking water.

    Read more: PVC Pipes and Drinking Safety |

  45. Clark Hamblen

    I have done the same thing for my patio tomato plants but with plastic water bottles. I cut the end off, close the mouth piece with screw top, poke holes all around and bury them on either side of the plants. My bushes have never looked or grown better. Saw it on a Pin on Pinterest. If I had the land you do I would do what you are doing, but for now my potted plants feed all of us and our extended family!

  46. Wendy

    I thought of this years ago, but dirt kept filling up the pipe. I found and they had a membrane inside that stops the dirt from filling the tube. You might try rocks inside and that may slow the flow of dirt from going inside the tube.

  47. I can’t pin the photos, maybe because they are on Flickr?

    • asonomagarden

      possibly, though others have pinned these images. If you want you could search for asonomagarden in pinterest and the image will come up. then you could repin that.

  48. Diamond

    Wow that seems so easy and such a great wsy to get water to the roots. Thanks for all the awesome advice on gardening, this will definitely be my best garden ever.

  49. Texan

    You can also do this cheaply by taking the plastic pots people get when they by buying plants from the store, or purchasing them, digging a hole and placing them in the hole. The pots should already have holes to allow the water to drain. They don’t go down 18 inches but sill are good for up to 12 inches. Put some balanced fertilizer in them before watering for even healthier plants. I have had excellent results doing this.

  50. Suzanne

    to keep soil from filling the pipe, slip an old knee-high hose over the the pipe before putting it into the soil.

  51. Pingback: How To: Growing Tomatoes Using A Deep Watering Gardening Method - Plant Care Today

  52. I know that your way to water tomatoes works well. We have a device that is very similar called “Deep Drip Watering Stakes” which saturate the soil at a deep level. It works well with drip systems by coming off the mainline with a 1/4″ spagetti line and stick it down the tube with an emitter on the end. they’re great for trees too. You can see them on

    • asonomagarden

      That’s a great idea, to have an emitter go down into the tube. We’ve become big fans of your store in the past three years Leon!

  53. Same

    Many years a OKLA Farmer just dug a hole 3 ft deep with post hole diggers/filled with straw & watered every 10 days. Huge abdundent Tomatoes.

  54. Zara King

    Great ideas, I have heard of using PVC pipe placed at the correct intervals and popping the seed right into it, The light will attract the plant to grow up the tube and anything outside of it will be treated as a weed.
    I love your pages of tips and tricks and sure could use this method of watering here in the desert.

  55. Della Blair

    we are growing our tomatoes in a row the last two years and it has worked great my question is do you just water in the pipes ? we are now watering in a trough around the plants .

  56. Karen

    So do I put water in the pipe and water that way? We don’t get rain here in the Summer so I assume I would put water in the pipe that way?

  57. Love the pipe trick! My husband has been making giant tomato cages like yours for years, works great for lots of crops, but especially supportive for heavy tomato vines. Another way to get awesome tomato plants is to put your transplants deep into the ground, right up to the bottom set of leaves. Dig the hole the depth of the plant to the last set of leaves. If you soil is hard to work, go as deep as you can and gently lay the root ball on it’s side and coil the stem around the hole. Hold the remainder of the plant upright in the center of the hole and start filling with soil. This gives a super strong root system and a. Bumper crop of tomatoes! Try it!

  58. Katherine

    I put 2-liter soda bottles in the ground between my plants. I poke holes in the bottom of the bottle, bury it with just the neck exposed, and fill the bottle with water. I also bury crushed eggshells in the hole I plant the tomatoes in to give them a calcium boost.

  59. Northern gardener

    Also remember to plant your tomatoes much deeper than they are as starters. I take off the bottom 2 or 3 branches (to the 2nd or 3rd leaf node), depending how big your plant is, and plant to that new depth. More roots will grow along the planted part of the stem giving the plant access to more water also. I only do this with tomatoes as most plants need to be planted at their original soil level.

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  61. Sue Philipak

    I cannot see the advantage of growiing high tomato plants. I was always taught to cut them down to about 5 feet , reason being, the tomato production is important , not the vine. The taller the vine , the fewer tomatoes in number and size. What is your advice.
    As to watering deeply, could not a simple plastic gallon bucket be planted in the hole first, with a FEW holes punched in various places , tgen cover the plant with soil , leaving space at the top for watering.?

  62. Bobbie Gaines

    I use 1/2 gallon plastic milk containers remove cap drill 1/2 inch holes on the side I put close to the tomato plant. I dig a hole about 8 inches from the tomato plant leaving a couple of inches of the container sticking out of the ground. I fill the container with water doing all the plants like this and then start over filling the container the second time. I do this twice a week if we don’t get a lot of rain that week. I only put out 6 to 8 tomato plants have enough for myself and to give away. I also live in Georgia.

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