I just can’t seem to get through a summer without writing something about tomato plants. They can be so easy to grow, with new seedlings springing up in the garden from last year’s left-behind seeds. I just don’t have the heart to pull them all out, so I leave a few to see what has survived the winter.
The main goal of pruning and staking tomatoes is to keep the fruits off the ground and protect them from sunburn. Pruned plants produce bigger and earlier fruits because more of the plant energy is channeled into the fruit production and not into the branches and leaves. Pruning is a good cultural practice that can slow and control the spread of disease.
Bush or determinate tomatoes grow to about three feet and stop growing when fruit sets on the top bud. All the tomatoes ripen at about the same time, in one to two weeks. They will need a limited amount of staking and are perfect for container growing.
Some say to prune a determinate and some say not to. Me, I like to prune. A determinate tomato will produce only so much fruit. If you do prune you are taking away some of the fruit producing branches. I like to prune suckers and branches at the bottom five to 10 inches, depending on the size of the plant, to increase air flow at the base of the plant and reduce the risk of attracting insects and disease with the possibility of fruits resting on the ground. I would rather deal with fewer tomatoes than insects and disease.
Indeterminate tomatoes will keep on growing and producing fruit until the first frost. They will set fruit and ripen fruit all at the same time and require a large amount of space to sprawl. It is recommended to pinch suckers on an indeterminate plant throughout the growing season.
Suckers are described as leafy growths that often appear between the crotch of the main stem and the branches. Remove a sucker when it is about four inches long. Grasp it between your thumb and second finger, then bend it to the side until it breaks. A knife or pruner can be used but must be cleaned with a solution of bleach and water to ensure a disease free cut. Remove and discard the pruned branches to the compost pile.
Any stems or leaves that turn yellow should be pruned away immediately. Never prune or tie plants when the leaves are wet.
As always, Happy Gardening!
The Purdue University Cooperative Extension Service can be reached at 499-6334 in LaGrange County.