Plants, Stone, California Landscapes


Most Plants Are Not Tomatoes…



But it feels like most people plant them as if they were. We see tons and tons of sick, unhealthy plants, especially trees and shrubs, that have been planted by well-meaning, and sometimes even professional, gardeners who bury the root crowns of the plants. It’s reached the point that we automatically check if the crowns are buried whenever we look at someone’s garden. Nine out of ten times, if a tree is sick, the crown is buried. I’m not sure why people plant that way. I probably did it years ago, too, but I don’t remember the thinking behind it. I guess the plants seem more solid when their trunks have a lot of dirt holding them in place. Also, I think it might be because people’s first gardening experience is with a tomato.

Tomatoes are one of the few plants that actually benefits from having the root crown and stem buried. If you bury the root crown (the spot where the stem or trunk meets the soil and starts to put out roots) and the stem of a tomato plant, the branch nodes will form new roots and you’ll get a more vigorous plant. If you bury the root crown or stem of most other plants, the stem will slowly rot and the plant will die. It can take a long time, sometimes years, for a plant to die from a buried crown, so a well-intentioned gardener might never learn why their plants tend to mysteriously kick the bucket. It’s the most common cause of problems when we consult on sick plants, and I have a theory that it’s one of the most common causes of black thumbs. I know at least one black thumb gardener who was losing plants for that reason.

A few plants, like tomatoes, benefit from being planted a bit deep. I have a short list, which I hope to add to over time, of those plants below. Let me know of any I should add to the list.


Black Currant

Some (All?) Clematis


Heuchera (when you divide them)


6 Responses to “Most Plants Are Not Tomatoes…”

  1. March 9th, 2009 at 6:34 pm

    Bill Kisich says:

    I know some people put too much mulch in the hole and don’t compact it a little bit before installing the plant. After it gets wet a few times, the plant sinks and dirt and top dressing fall into the bowl.

    Funny, this was always one of the hardest lessons to teach new people when I was a landscape contractor. I really don’t know why. I guess I’m glad someone else is annoyed by it. I thought I was just obsessive or something.

  2. March 9th, 2009 at 8:27 pm

    Buenorific says:

    Back in the day, we were taught to dig the planting hole twice as deep as the rootball to give the roots room to spread. Then the soil would settle and leave the crown below grade. Nowadays we’re taught to dig the hole only as deep as the rootball but 3x as wide. Room to spread, w/o the settling.

  3. March 10th, 2009 at 3:21 pm

    Alice Joyce says:

    Hi Ryan,
    Thanks for stopping by Bay Area Tendrils. Always good to meet another local blogger. btw, I thought I downloaded ’08 show gardens from the Garden Show web site, but something may have gotten mixed up in the process.

  4. March 10th, 2009 at 7:32 pm

    Town Mouse says:

    Don’t get me started. When I did my front garden remodel, the “guys” dug a deep hole for each plant, stuck the plant in, and put the dirt from the hole on top of the plant. I notices and called my landscaper, who had the foreman dig every single plant back out (bless his heart) and replant it properly. Now things are fine, but it could have ended badly…

  5. March 12th, 2009 at 3:02 am

    Ross says:

    I didn’t know that about tomatoes! I always struggle with new staff – that seems to be their first instinct, and it takes a while before people break bad habits…

  6. March 13th, 2009 at 11:33 pm

    bradzio says:

    Yeah, I remember when I was a kid, my dad and older brother dug this huge hole they could stand in to plant an orange tree. I thought for the longest time you were supposed to dig a hole 2 or 3 times deeper than the tree’s roots. I just gardened at a place today where all the fruit trees were in wells a good two inches below the soil of the rest of the yard.
    The tomato theory is a good one. I had a roommate planting everything deep and I found out it was because his dad had told him to do that with the tomatoes and he just kept going.

Leave a Reply