Saturday, June 6, 2015

Plant Peppers and Tomatoes Deep for Higher Yields and Stronger Plants

Plant deep. That is the best piece of advice I could give anyone who wants to grow healthier and more productive peppers and tomatoes. With tomatoes this is common knowledge among gardeners, and you won’t cause much of a stir by doing it. But anyone who has spent any amount of time reading a gardening forum knows that the topic of deep planting peppers can cause quite the debate. Many swear that peppers do not root from their stems, and that you will kill your plants because the stem will rot. This scares people away from trying it because of course they don’t want to risk killing their plants.
Peppers from early last summer... all planted deep and all very much alive!
Gardening is like any pursuit in that those who are passionate about it tend to have strong opinions. Just read a message board thread about organic vs. non-organic gardening for a quick primer on this. All I can speak to is my experience and the experiences of other successful gardeners who I trust. If your experience is anything like mine (and many other people who have practiced this method for decades) your pepper plants absolutely do root from their buried stems and do benefit from deep plantings just like tomatoes do. Eggplants benefit from deep planting as well. And why not? All three are members of the nightshade family, along with potatoes (which also should be buried as they grow for higher yields). It makes sense that they share similar growth habits.
loaded Jimmy Nardello plants from last summer
Deep planting of tomatoes, peppers and eggplants has a few major benefits. One is that more roots=more nutrient intake. The more nutrients a plant can take in, the more energy it has to do all of the stuff we want it to do (grow, branch out, produce fruit). In addition, more roots mean a stronger, sturdier plant in the wind. Each of those roots is an anchor that helps the plant avoid getting thrashed around in the wind. Finally, if you start seedlings indoors chances are that your plants are a bit leggy, which means they are very tall and thin due to the lack of sufficient light. They are literally reaching for the light! If you plant a leggy seedling at the same depth it was in its seed tray you will most likely have a top-heavy plant that could easily snap in a strong wind, which we get plenty of here in Buffalo.
Golden Sunray from 2015 garden.... stocky and already had a small tomato in late May!
So how do I plant deep? I simply remove the leaves from the lower 2/3 of a tomato or pepper plant, dig a hole deep enough to bury the plant about 2/3 of the way, and plant it. Don’t worry about getting it perfect; nature is tough, and gardening should be fun! If you forget to remove a leaf and it gets buried? DOOM! Actually, you won’t notice any difference; the leaf will just decompose in the dirt like the leaves that fall from the plant during the growing season do. Also, don’t sweat too much about exactly how deep you plant the seedling. Whether it is 40%, 50% or 70% buried the stem is going to produce more roots and the plant will be much stronger because of it than it would be otherwise. 

About those deep planted peppers… I have been deep planting all of my peppers for the past couple of years now. Far from sickly plants with rotten stems, the poblano plants last summer were about 5 feet tall, with thick tree-like stems. We are still eating cayenne peppers that we froze from last year’s garden. I grew 2 plants in a 5 gallon container. We just used the last of our aforementioned poblano peppers. I only grew 2 plants in one 7 gallon container. Remember, a plant is only as good as its roots, which is why a rich and well draining growing medium is essential for getting the results you want. Healthy roots=healthy plants. Having a lot more of those healthy roots makes a tremendous difference in the health and yield of your plants.

healthy plants=bigger yields... this is a 7 gallon container in 2013
I mentioned eggplants before. I often plant eggplants an inch or two deeper than the seedling trays, mostly because they tend to be stockier and tougher as seedlings and don’t really have a long stem to begin with. I typically plant them up to the base of the lowest leaves (without removing any). Sometimes though you will encounter a leggy eggplant seedling, and if that’s the case you can (and should) plant it just like a tomato or pepper.
more happy peppers from last summer's garden
Summer is well underway here in Western New York, and the garden is starting to really take shape! I look forward to sharing my adventures in container gardening with all of you for the next few months, and I hope your gardens are starting to bloom as well!

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Until next time, happy gardening!


  1. Wow! Your plants are so lush! I wonder if some people have issues with deep-planting due to having soil that holds more moisture. We both garden in containers - they dry out much faster. If someone were in, say, North Carolina where it stays wet and humid, it's possible that the poor peppers could just get smothered by the wet and the rot would set in before the roots could get going. Does that sound like a possibility? (Just thinking aloud!)

    1. Hi Cathy,

      Thank you for reading and commenting!

      It is certainly possible that soil composition could play a role, but I think that in almost all cases the plant's natural tendency to root from its stem would take over.