Tips on Pruning Tomatoes

 Pruning Tomatoes

Pruning Tomatoes
Pruning Tomatoes

If you have ever planted tomatoes, you know how quickly tiny little transplants can develop into large spreading vines that will have you pruning tomatoes. Tomato plants grow large suckers--shoots that turn into stems and then have leaves, flowers  and eventually tomatoes. In turn, these new stems grow suckers…on and on, until tomato vines are spreading everywhere. If you let them grow, you will have more tomatoes but you will also have your fruit lying on the ground because the vines are not strong enough to bear the weight of all of the tomatoes. That’s a sure way to acquire plant diseases and any number of pests intent on destroying your tomatoes.

If you don’t start pruning tomatoes, the tomatoes will fall to the ground and rot or be eaten by insects and other pests. It is important to pinch or cut suckers off before they turn into new stems. This can be done by hand or with pruning shears. You can also use this opportunity to shape the looks of the plant and to clear up the crowding within the plant so that air can circulated. If you do use tools when pruning tomatoes, make sure that they have been sterilized so they cannot spread any plant diseases.

Pruning tomatoes is going to be a lot more time consuming than just letting the plants sprawl. The tomato plants will produce less fruit but the fruit will be of better quality, so there is a tradeoff. Determinate tomato plants should never be pruned as they will only grow to a specified height. Indeterminate tomato plants, especially ones that grow large beefsteak tomatoes like Beefmaster are most in need of pruning. Tomato cages can help contain plant growth and decrease the amount of tomato pruning that needs to be done. If you do decide not to prune, be sure to cover the ground under the tomato plants with a nice cover of mulch. That will prevent the tomatoes from resting on the ground.

Pruning tomatoes is usually just a matter of personal preference. If you do prune, do not do it when the plants are wet as this will just lead to the spread of disease. Leave enough leaves on the plant so that the tomatoes will not receive sun scald. There are basically two methods of pruning: one is to pinch off a new sucker immediately after it develops. This can be done with the fingers. Or, you can wait until a sucker has two or so leaves, and then just pinch off the tip and leave the leaves. You will probably need a small knife or box cutter on these as the stems are starting to form and will be thicker. Sterilize the tool before using it to cut the plant.

The more sugar the tomato plant can put into fruit production instead of into growing leaves, means bigger and better fruit for you to eat. Some people never prune their tomato plants at all and still have beautiful looking and great tasting tomatoes, even though the vines might be running rampant. One healthy tomato plant can produce as many as ten separate vines that can each grow to be ten feet long. If you decide not to try pruning tomatoes, leave plenty of space between plants.

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