After going through all the work of planting a tomato garden, how disappointing is it when all you get are a few dinky tomatoes? There are things you can do to increase the bounty in terms of numbers and size. It might seem counter-intuitive, but the practice of pruning or selectively trimming off certain branches will increase your yield. That, along with adequate compost and watering and sunshine should be all that is needed.
There is a method to pruning so, the best advice is to learn how to prune tomato plants before you make a mess of it, like I did the first time. 😉
How to Prune Tomato Plants in Your Garden
Tomato plants should be pruned throughout the season starting when the suckers are between two and three inches (2-3″) long. To do so increases the yield and reduces the disease pressure on the plants.
Prune the plant back to two ‘leaders’ and remove all the suckers in between. As plants grow up they can be ‘trellised’ on the stakes. The first ‘leader’ can be identified as the large stem branching from the main stem. Below the first flower cluster is a sucker that becomes the second leader. Some growers limit the plant to two leaders as the main growing points.
Remove all the other suckers growing from the ‘leaf axles’ along the stem. (The leaf axles are the horizontal leaf stems off the leaders). Pinch the suckers off with your fingers. Removal of the suckers will invigorate the plant and allow leaders to to see more growth and produce more fruit.
Suckers should be pruned every week to ten days (7-10 days) during the growing season. It matters little what time of day you do it as long as the leaves are not wet. Pruning when the leaves are wet may help spread disease.
Some types of tomato plants do not require pruning. ‘Determinate’ plants are bush type plants and only get to be about three (3) feet tall and do not require pruning. ‘Indeterminate’ plants continue to grow throughout the growing season until frost comes. They need to be pruned of suckers and staked. One method of staking is called ‘basket weaving.’ Cord or twine is ‘woven’ between stakes and around plants to give them something to support their vertical growth. It acts as a trellis to support the plant and keep it off the ground.
About thirty (30) days before the first frost is expected, trim back the growing points -the ends of the leaders. This will inhibit new growth and the plants will instead force energy into the last fruit to ripen it before the frost comes.
Not pruning your tomato plants will result in a dense jungle of plants that kind of take over your garden, with more greenery than fruit. The dense growth inhibits the sun from getting at the fruit and blocks air circulation and slows drying -sometimes promoting certain blights and mildew that thrive in the wet conditions.
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