Dirt on Gardening

I’ve never done an official survey but based on the “garden talk” I have with others, tomatoes seem to be the number one vegetable crop grown by home gardeners.

I know many people who don’t have a “garden,” but they always grow at least one tomato plant. I have also noticed that many people judge the success of their entire vegetable garden by their tomato crop.

Pruning and training tomatoes is the best way to maximize your tomato crop. Keep in mind that determinate tomato plants (short, non-vining) do not need to be pruned or trained; that will actually diminish their yield. Indeterminate (long, vining) tomatoes can increase yield with good management.

Indeterminate tomato plants will live until the first frost dividing their time between vegetative and fruit growth. If pruning of indeterminate tomato plants is done appropriately, the plant will devote its energy to production of flowers and fruit. Pruned tomato plants can produce more fruit that ripens earlier. Reduction in the number of leaves touching each other can foliar and other diseases that are caused by lots of leaves and stems.

First, the indeterminate tomato plant must be staked or caged. The plant should be up off the ground and provided with four to five feet of something to grow up inside or to be tied to as it grows.

Indeterminate tomatoes can be pruned to one main branch or several main branches of “leaders” which will be about the same overall size. Remove the side shoots, commonly known as “suckers” from the leaf axils between the leaves and main stem.

For a plant with one leader, remove all the leaves and side shoots below the first flower cluster, and continue to remove suckers as the plant grows. Two leader tomato plants need to have one sucker growing directly below the first flower cluster, continuing to remove sucker that grow on both stems. It’s also okay to have three or four leaders, allowing three or four suckers to crow above the first flower cluster.

Suckers should be removed when they are two to three inches in length. They should snap off by bending them with your hand, or they can be cut off with a pair of hand pruners. You will need to prune them every week to 10 days to stay ahead of sucker growth.

If a sucker gets long, don’t cut off the big sucker, which will create a large wound next to the main stem of the plant. Instead, cut the tip of the long sucker, leaving behind just a few leaves.

Studies have shown that pruning tomatoes to two leaders on a trellis system creates the largest tomatoes, the earliest in the season. However, reduced foliage can lead to more sunburn and cracking. Be judicious in the amount of foliage removed from your tomato plant.

Questions or comments related to gardening? Contact Joleen at missourigardener@hotmail.com

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