Caring for Your Tomatoes
In mid July, it’s time to begin harvesting those vine ripened tomatoes we have all been drooling over with anticipation.
If you’re looking for a way to increase yield, pest resistance and flavor of your tomatoes, it’s a good idea to prune your plants! Pruning tomato plants can be an effective way to achieve all three of these benefits, as the main purpose of pruning is to direct energy to the fruit instead of to unnecessary foliage growth.
Begin by identifying the variety of your tomato plant as determinate, or indeterminate. This is how you will know what sort of pruning approach to take.
Indeterminate plants are vine type tomato plants that require staking and tying up. Determinate plants grow as a bush type and typically send sufficient energy to fruits without requiring much intervention.
After you have identified the tomato plant as indeterminate, it’s helpful to then place your focus on the main stem of the plant. You will be able to tell this main stem by seeing at the top what is called the “growth leader” or, “terminal shoot.” Off shoots located between the main stem and the leaf are called “suckers.” Suckers are located above the leaf, and tend to grow at a 45 degree angle. Take the sucker with your thumb and forefinger and either snap or twist it off. Removing suckers will help your plant bear large fruits all season long!
Ideally, it is best to prune suckers when they are small. However, it’s not too late to prune suckers if you haven’t yet this season! For suckers larger than the diameter of a pencil, use the “Missouri pruning method.” Instead of taking the large sucker out at the joint, you can simply remove the growth leader, the top part with fruiting potential. It’s a good idea to leave a few inches of the sucker to help reduce shock to the plant as well as one or two leaves behind for photosynthesis.
As your plant matures, it’s also a good idea to remove yellow leaves, or leaves that are touching the ground. This helps to prevent the spread of disease from windblown rain.
In addition, while you’re gathering the last of the harvest from your plant, it’s helpful to “top” the plant. This involves removing the terminal shoot or growth leader from the main stem. This will send all remaining nutrients to the fruits of the plant. Harvest, store upside down, and enjoy!
This story was written by Leah Turgeon, VISTA with Appalachian Mountain Advocates.