How to Prune Tomatoes

A tomato is a solar-powered boodle factory. For the first calendar month or then, all of the sugar it produces is directed toward new leaf growth. During this stage, tomato plants grow identical quickly, doubling their size every 12 to 15 days. finally, the plants make more carbohydrate than the unmarried growing tiptoe can use, which signals the plant to make new branches and to flower. This normally happens after 10 to 13 leaves have expanded, at which time the plant is 12 to 18 inches grandiloquent. In the next few weeks, the integral character of the tomato plant changes. If unsupported, the increasing weight of filling yield and multiple side branches forces the plant to lie on the establish. Once the independent stem is horizontal, there is an increase tendency to ramify. Left to its own devices, a vigorous indeterminate tomato plant can easily cover a 4-foot by 4-foot area with a many as 10 stems, each 3 to 5 feet retentive. By season ’ south end, it will be an unsightly, impenetrable, disease-wracked tangle .

Prune for plant structure and health

A by rights pruned and supported single-stem tomato plant presents all of its leaves to the sun. Most of the sugar produced is directed to the developing fruit since the only rival is a one growing tip off. The result is big fruits that are steadily produced until frost. If more stems are allowed to develop, some of the precious carbohydrate production is diverted from yield to multiple growing tips. Fruit production, although slowed, never stops. The result is a about continuous supply of fruits throughout the season. In general, more stems means more but smaller fruits, which are produced increasingly later in the season. ( This is much less applicable to determinate plants, due to their shortened growing season and better-defined fruit menstruation. Therefore, definitive plants require small pruning. See “ Indeterminate vs. Determinate, ” below. ) With tomatoes, we want to maximize the efficiency of photosynthesis and minimize the risk of disease. This is best accomplished by ensuring that each leaf has enough of room and is supported up off the ground. When a tomato plant lies on the prime, or when its growth is extremely dense, many of its leaves are forced into permanent nuance, greatly reducing the sum of carbohydrate they produce. If a leaf uses more sugar than it makes, finally it will yellow and drop off. A cut and staked plant will produce larger fruit two to three weeks earlier than a prostrate one .
RULE 1 : Get plants off the ground .
RULE 2 : give plants room.

RULE 3 : never prune or tie plants when the leaves are wet .
Pruning besides affects implant health. The leaves of a snip and supported plant dry off fast, so bacterial and fungal pathogens have less opportunity to spread. Soil is less apt to splash up onto staked plants. The bottom argumentation : good plants have fewer problems with flick spots and fruit rots because their leaves stay drier and free from pathogen-laden dirty .
The way you choose to train and prune your tomato plants will affect how you space your plants, a well as the best method acting of documentation. There ’ s no one right way to do it. rather, there are a few good patterns to follow .
Tomato vines

Side stems on a tomato plant affect its vigor

As a tomato grows, side shoots, or suckers, form in the crotches, or axils, between the leaves and the main root. If left alone, these suckers will grow merely like the chief stem, producing flowers and fruit .
Suckers appear consecutive, from the bottom of the plant up. The farther astir on the plant a sucker develops, the weaker it is, because the sugar concentration gets lower as you move up the plant. On the other hand, side stems arising from below the first bloom bunch, although stronger, compromise the strength of the main stem. For a multi-stemmed plant, your aim is to have all stems roughly the same size, although the main stem should always be stronger because it has to feed the integral plant for the future five or six months. here ’ s how I achieved this .
I keep tomatoes release of side stems below the beginning fruit bunch. When trained to one vine and left free-standing, tomato plants develop potent main stems. To encourage a impregnable stem turn, I trim all suckers and I don ’ deoxythymidine monophosphate draw plants to their supports until the first gear flowers appear .
Determinate tomatoes need no pruning other than removing all suckers below the first flower bunch because pruning won ’ t affect their fruit size or plant energy. If you do any cut at all above the first flower bunch on determinate tomatoes, you ’ ll only be throwing away potential fruit .
Indeterminate tomatoes can have from one to many stems, although four is the most I ’ five hundred recommend. The fewer the shank, the fewer but larger the fruits, and the less board the plant needs in the garden. For a multi-stemmed plant, let a second stem originate from the first node above the first fruit. Allow a third gear root to develop from the irregular node above the first typeset yield, and thus forth. Keeping the branch as close to the first fruit as possible means those side stems will be vigorous but will not overpower the main stalk .

What’s the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes?

Indeterminate tomato plants continue to grow, limited only by the length of the season. These plants produce stems, leaves, and fruit vitamin a long as they are alive .
Determinate tomato plants have a preset issue of stems, leaves, and flowers hardwired into their genetic structure. The development of these plants follows a chiseled blueprint. First, there is an initial vegetative stage during which all the stems, most of the leaves, and a few fruits are formed. This is followed by a flush of blossoming and concluding leaf expansion. last, during the fruit-fill stage, there is no further vegetal growth. As the tomato fruits ripen, the leaves senesce and die. commercial growers favor this type of tomato because all the fruit can be mechanically harvested at once. The major advantage of planting definitive plants in a home garden is an early harvest .
Semi-determinate plants, as the name implies, are somewhere between these two other types. Although there aren ’ t many semi-determinate tomatoes, one of the most popular hybrids, ‘ Celebrity ’, falls into this class. I think semi-determinates are well grown to three or four stems.

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tomato vines against brick walls

There are two types of tomato pruning: Simple and Missouri pruning

In Missouri pruning, you pinch out precisely the tip of the sucker, letting one or two leaves remain. The advantage is that the plant has more leaf area for photosynthesis and to protect developing fruit from sun-scald. The disadvantage is that new suckers inescapably develop along the side stems, adding to your future cut chores. There are two ways to deal with a chump that isn ’ t destined to become a root. The elementary is to pinch it off entirely ; not amazingly, this is called “ bare pruning. ” This should be done when the lollipop is hush small and succulent. Grab the base of it between your flick and index finger and bend it back and forth. The sucker should snap off, producing a small wind that will heal quickly. Avoid cutting the sucker with a tongue or scissors, because the resulting stump can become well infect. once a chump becomes excessively street fighter and coriaceous to snap off, however, you ’ ll have to use a blade. I recommend a retractable razor tongue .
Missouri cut is necessity when things have gotten out of hand. When you ’ ra dealing with big suckers, it ’ sulfur better to pinch off merely the tip than to cut off the whole thing close to the chief stem. For one thing, if disease hits, it ’ south farther away from the main stem. And for another, removing just the growing tiptoe is less of a shock to the plant than removing a foot or so of side stem .
Suckers grow very quickly during the hot summer months. This is indeed a position that tests one ’ south answer. It helps to know that side stems started this late in the season will always be lank and produce inferior fruit. You must be heartless and tip them all .

How to tie a tomato

There are two types of ties. Training ties direct plant growth upwards, and supporting ties keep it there. The top animal foot of a tomato stem, or drawing card, is very lush and easily snapped ; it needs to be directed upwards, gently. I wrap a inadequate piece of intertwine around the in-between of the drawing card, cross it over on itself, and broadly tie it to the support. The resulting figure-eight tie reduces the find the tender bow will rub against the corroborate and get bruised. once flowering commences, all tomato vines must be tied to their supports. Although vigorous, the plants are besides well damaged, so take concern in how you tie them and what you use. Cloth strips make well ampere long as they ’ ra not excessively previous and threadbare. Pieces of pantyhose cause the least damage to plants, but they ’ ra not biodegradable. wind should be at least 1/8 inch compact, or else it can cut into the tomato stems .
Fruit will form along this bow. If left to the devices of the loose train ties, the burden of the yield will pull the ties down the stake. finally, the stem will bend over and fold. fortunately, as the bow matures, it toughens ; by the clock fruit develops, the stem can tolerate a tighter tie. To support a fruit bunch as it fills and gains weight, I loop a long musical composition of twine, 12 to 18 inches, around the stem good above the fruit bunch, creating a sling. then I gently pull it up to take the weight off the bow. I wrap the intertwine twice around the venture, and hard tie it to the stake 6 to 10 inches higher than the compass point of attachment to the vine. To keep the tie from slipping, I knot it underneath the point where the sling meets the stake .

A  late season tomato pruning pays off big time

About 30 days before the first frost, there is one final pruning job : The plants must be topped. The yield that has set must be given every opportunity to mature. Removing all the growing tips directs all sugar produced by the plant to the fruit. This can be unvoiced to do, as every gardener is loath to admit the season is coming to an end. however, this concluding pruning can make all the deviation between hard, green fruits, hurriedly picked before frost, which subsequently rot in a newspaper cup of tea, and ripe, home-grown tomatoes in your Thanksgiving salad. Be rugged, fight your nurturing instincts, and top those plants .
Which method acting of support you use and how army for the liberation of rwanda apart you set tomato plants depends on the number of stems you allow to grow .
Cages work for plants with three to five stems. I use them about entirely for determinate tomatoes. ready-made tomato cages are besides little for all but the smallest definitive cultivars. My ideal tomato batting cage is made from 5-foot-tall startle argue with openings at least 4 inches feather, so I can reach in and pick the fruit. A 4-foot department makes a cylinder about 15 inches in diameter. Secure it with baling wire, and stabilize it with two stakes, one of which is at least 6 feet long. Drive the stakes in within a week of planting, but wait to set cages over the plants until the first fruits form, to simplify weed and cut. Space caged plants about two-thirds of their final acme in all directions .
Use the same type of fencing to make a tomato fence, which works best for plants with one or two stems. To get a dear, solid fence, you need a assistant. Secure the wall with 6-foot stakes every 4 feet. here ’ s how I keep the fence taut. Loop each non-end interest through the bottom resound of the fence, then start to drive it into the ground so its bottom is angled aside from the former post. Once it ’ randomness about 4 inches into the grind, bring the stake erect and drive it in the remainder of the way. Set single-stemmed plants 18 inches apart, and double-stemmed plants 24 inches aside. If you stagger the plant ( consecutive plants on inverse sides of the argue ), you can knock 6 inches off these distances. Erect the argue before you plant your tomatoes .
Stakes exploit well for plants of one to four stems. I use 1-inch by 1-inch by 6-foot lengths of untreated oak or cedar, sharpened on one end. Drive the stakes 8 to 12 inches into the flat coat, depending on your dirt ( deep for at large, flaxen flat coat ). To avoid damaging roots, drive your stakes in within a week of plant. Space staked plants at 18 inches for a one stem, 24 inches for two stems, and 36 inches for three or four stems.


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This article in the first place appeared in Kitchen Gardener # 27.

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