Home Growing Vegetables Growing Tomatoes: When Plants Are All Legs

Growing Tomatoes: When Plants Are All Legs

Growing Tomatoes: When Plants Are All Legs

tomato start and two bulldogsUh oh Boz, I know that look, the scowl of an unhappy bulldog, judging me for taking too long to plant all of my tomato starts. (Gracie on the other hand, believes a nap can solve any of life’s issues.) Smart dogs.

Indeed, I waited too long, hoping that one day in May the sun would shine on my Puget Sound garden and I could get to work planting. (I should have known better.)

Tomato plants get leggy when left in their starter pots too long, growing into spindly weaklings reaching for sun at one end and nutrients at the other. Even in this condition, it’s not too late to plant them in your garden (or patio pot as the case may be).

leggy tomato planted trimmed, before and afterTomatoes have a remarkable ability to create roots along their stems when placed in contact with soil. Do this with most other plants and the stem rots, and the plant dies. Tomatoes are much more forgiving. Follow the steps below and you can transform the willowy into the robust.

planting depth for leggy tomato

How to Plant (Rescue) a Leggy Tomato

  1. Remove unhealthy pale leaves (photo 2)
  2. Planting depth is determined by the highest leaf trimmed off (photo 3)
  3. Dig shallow trench about 5-6 inches deep
  4. Place plant on its side at 45 degrees (photo below)
  5. Cover with soil up to top leaf
  6. Make sure no leafs are covered, just stem
  7. Create a berm, and water plant
  8. Roots will form along the stem and in a week two it will take off.


how to plant a leggy tomato plantI create a soil incline to support the stem and then cover it with soil and gently pat down.

Boz and the freshly planted tomato startBoz, in his Sphinx repose, guards against BLT snatchers and wily crows.

row of newly planted tomato plantsAbove, I’ve formed basins to hold water as each plant gets established. One day, a row of resting toms; the next, the stars of my kitchen cutting board.

fresh tomatoes and the fixings for a homegrown BLTKeep your eye on the prize.  Patience, weeding and watering pay big dividends.

Take a look at  my favorites from last year.

homegrown tomatoes on a big BLT sandwich

One last tip: “light on the mayo” should never leave your lips when sharing a sentence (and a plate) with a BLT.


  1. Could have used this a couple weeks ago. Ours are all almost dead. We hardened them off when it was pretty warm out and I think they froze in the following week once they were in the ground.

  2. Tom, you are so amazing, we have yet to even buy our tomato starts for our first garden on this property. We will heed your advice as we have done on a lot of other things. Thanks to you and to Boz who is looking awfully handsome.

  3. Clever Tom, very clever. We picked our first ripe tomato of the season yesterday, but hey we’re in for another 100 degree day, so soon even the green ones will be fried – oh and I’m with ya’ on the mayo!

  4. I just finished planting my tomatoes this morning and they did not look good. My time and thoughts have been elsewhere and they were terribly ignored.

  5. I have 3 tomato plants growing in large containers on my patio. One is yellow tomatoes, the other one is red grape vine tomatoes & the 3rd is baby red tomatoes. The yellow ones is doing extremely well & is already now 1.5 meters high!!

  6. I’ve done this in years’ past and it worked well. From what I recall when I read about this, the additional roots are supposed to be more beneficial to a tomato plant. Your garden looks great. But the BLT looks greater.

    The bulldogs get the prize, though!

  7. That’s how we plant the leggy ones too, and I have heard the same thing that the roots are better that shoot from the sides. I can’t wait for a big ole slice of homegrown tomato!! You are also right about the mayo too!!!!!!!

  8. Tom – this can be done with all tomato plants no matter when they are put in the soil. I think it creates a hardier plant altogther. I just plant the bottom 2/3rds without ceremony, straight down even. My thinking is less heat at the deep roots. something we worry about alot in texas.

  9. Good point Brion where heat is an issue like Texas. In the Pacific NW where summer temps rarely reach 80 degrees, I don’t plant my tomatoes deeply because the soil temperatures are too cool in the spring for vigorous root growth, and with our nonstop rain you may get some rot.

  10. My plants seemed fine indoors but as soon after planting them, they aren’t doing well. Should I dig them up and replant? Give them time? I am ending up pinching more lower branches off because they are dying. What to do?

    • Cassie, I’d give them time. It’s still spring and tomatoes are not fond of cool soil temperatures or excessively wet feet. In the Seattle area, my tomatoes are just hanging out not growing much at all. Once we spend evenings in the high 50s and 60s, the toms will start to take off. If your leaves are wilting and the entire plant drooping, you may have tomato blight. Here’s a great site for tomato diseases, just as a reference: http://www.maine.gov/agriculture/pesticides/gotpests/diseases/tomato-problems.htm. Good luck, Tom

  11. Hi Tom, thanks thats just what I needed to know as my very leggy tomatoes sit on my kitchen window in New Zealand, I was disappointed with myself thinking they would be wasted, I shall plant them as you suggested on my next day off in 2 days these seedlings are special as came from a 70 year old who bought them from what was Yugoslavia in his pocket when he was six.
    Love your bulldogs.

    • So glad I could help. You’ll be amazed how quickly the leggy plants rebound and root and take full charge of their growing season. Happy Growing! Thanks also for the bulldog love, too.

  12. Hi Tom,
    I was looking at your webpage about trellising tomatoes and I couldn’t help but seeing the gorgeous bullies Boz and Gracie. I swear they could be identical twins to our own two bullies that we put up for adoption in 2006’ish. Would you mind sharing where you got them? We worked thru a bully rescue in the North Carolina area to give them to a couple who were looking for a couple of bulldogs (after the birth of our daughter we just didn’t give them the time they needed and this other couple was a little older and had just lost their previous pair of bullies to old age and had lots of time for them). I see they have passed on over the rainbow bridge, and the ages look appropriate…..just wondering if there was any chance they might have been our babies at one point…….

    • Hi Deidra, wouldn’t that be something if Boz and Gracie were your twins. I wish I could say yes, but I knew the original owners of these two and they were from Washington state. Each came from a different home. I’m glad they reminded you of your babies, and brought back some sweet memories. Well wishes! Tom


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