The Slowcook at Spydog Farm The Slowcook at Spydog Farm

Tending Tomatoes

June 20th, 2010 · 2 Comments · Posted in garden

Pruning suckers is easy

Pruning suckers is easy

Do you prune your tomato plants?

In the past, we enclosed our tomatoes in big cages made of concrete reinforcing wire and let then grow wild. By mid-summer, they didn’t look great–all that wilted foliage–but they were making great tomatoes. So who cares what they look like?

Well, this year we decided to try a different look: We’ve eliminated the cages and are growing our tomatoes up stakes consisting of steel “rebars.” As a further experiment, we are planting more varieties of tomatoes and planting them closer together.

I am a firm believer in giving tomatoes lots of room to spread their roots. I usually plant them with at least three feet of separation. Sometimes, people plant their tomatoes ridiculously close together. They have no idea how big tomatoes want to become.

But to increase the air ciculation around our tomatoes, and reduce the possibility of wilt, we are pruning our tomatoes aggressively, turning them into “single vine” plants. Or perhaps a “Y’-shaped plant with two main vines.

I’m no expert at this, so if you have any tips or suggestions, please pass them along. But last year we were encouraged when a volunteer “Dr. Carolyn,” an heirloom golden cherry tomato, popped up at the bottom of our front steps. Rather than pull the plant, I pounded a wooden stake into the ground and began training it up the stake, pruning it and tying it. I pruned it back to a single vine–the main vine–and plucked away any “suckers” that showed up.

When I first heard about tomato pruning, I couldn’t imagine what these “suckers” were gardeners talked about. Wasn’t that something that came straight from the root? In the case of the tomato, the “sucker” is a new or would-be stem that sprouts from the “v” formed by a branch and a main stem, as in the photo above. You simply snap it off with your fingers, or snip it off with gardening shears.

A few words of caution: don’t handle your tomato plants when they’re wet. And clean your tools and your hands before you proceed with your pruning from one plant to another. These are precautions that will help prevent the spread of diseases. I also don’t put diseased plant material in my compost heap. I throw it in the trash.

Supposedly, pruning can help keep tomato plants healthier. They may produce fewer, but larger, fruit. It’s not an easy thing, trimming away healthy growth on a vegetable plant, sometimes with flowers blooming. But you must steel your nerves. For a good read on the process, try this article from Fine Gardening magazine.

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  • andrew

    pruning tomatoes can be tricky i know gardeners who even go so far as to sterilize the scissors in alcohol, if you smoke prevent the spread of tobacco mosaic virus by the same methods, rubber gloves?

  • freckledcitizen

    I’ve also read that pruning tomato plants leads to better-tasting tomatoes, because the sugars in the plant have a more direct route to the tomatoes. A less watery tomato sounds great to me!