If there is one garden chore that can really help your tomato crop reach its full potential – its pruning!
Left alone to grow as they please – tomato plants can morph into a tangled mess of stems, shoots, roots and leaves. Beyond creating a mess in the garden – it can also invite all types of pests and disease that wreak havoc on your tomato plants – and more importantly – your harvest!
Pruning your plants allows for better air circulation – and makes it harder for pests and disease to take control.
Before you prune – you need to know which types of tomatoes you are growing. There are two types of tomatoes – determinate and indeterminate.
Determinate varieties will grow for a specified time and have almost all of their fruit ripen over a two to three-week period. They tend to be a more bushy style of plant (La Roma is a great example) and require little to no pruning on the sides and up top – but benefit greatly from bottom pruning.
Indeterminate tomatoes, on the other hand, will grow and keep on producing tomatoes until killed by frost. Most all of the heirloom varieties fall under this category – and pruning them is key to a healthy crop.
Pruning Tomatoes – The How To’s:
When pruning your tomatoes, be sure to use a sharp pair of hand pruners or heavy-duty garden scissors. Dull blades can tear the plants causing damage. Prune early in the morning or in the evening to avoid the heat of the day when plants are at their highest stress level.
Clear out those bottom branches…
It is extremely important to clear the stems and leaves from the bottom of your tomato plants – whether they are determinate or indeterminate. Even if you were to do no more pruning throughout the season – this alone can make all the difference in your crop’s health and yields.
Much of the rot and disease that can affect tomatoes are soil borne – and clearing out the bottom area makes it less likely your plants can become infected. (This is also why it is important to mulch under your plants with shredded leaves or straw) Pruning the bottom also helps defend against disease by allowing air to circulate throughout the plants – and makes it easier to water when needed. Most importantly, it makes it hard for crawling garden pests to have an easy lift up onto your plants!
For determinate varieties that tend to grow shorter and bushier – take off the first few branches at ground level – leaving around 4 to 6″ of space off the ground. For indeterminate and larger tomatoes – don’t be afraid to take up to 8 to 12″ at the bottom of each plant off to really allow air, light and circulation to your plants.
Create Some Space In The Middle
This is also the time to trim back and eliminate those renegade branches that seem to shoot off to the side and grow into the next row. Do not be afraid to trim back these wild branches – and while you are at it – remove excess foliage in the middle of the plant to allow for more light to come through and ripen your tomatoes. Nothing crazy here – just remove a few of the thick stems and leaves that carry little to no fruit.
Trimming the Tops…
Tomato plants can be trimmed to stay at a given height – especially when they begin to grow over your stakes or cages. Simply trim off new shoots that begin to appear at the top level – and your tomato plants will begin to use the energy for new growth – and put it towards putting out more fruit. This is true more of the indeterminate varieties – where as the determinate will grow to a specific height and stop on their own.
So get out there in the garden and do a little trimming to your tomatoes – they will reward you with a healthier and more productive crop!
And while you are at it – check out a few of our favorite tomato canning recipes:
Happy Gardening – Jim and Mary