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Learn how to prune tomato plants for a better harvest, because we all want more delicious tomatoes right?
Tomatoes have long been my nemesis crop.
From the rainy summers of the Pacific Northwest, the dreaded blight, and even blossom drop. But this year, I’ve finally got a gorgeous bunch of tomato plants. And nothing, I mean nothing, is going to come in the way of my harvest. At least, if I can help it.
There’s nothing more discouraging than putting in all the time, effort, and money, to care for a plant, and then not get a harvest. And, if I’m being totally honest with you guys, it feels like a black mark on my homesteaders badge. I consider myself a fairly decent gardener. I’m also a tad bit stubborn.
This my friends, is a recipe for going-to-get-it-right-if-it-kills-me. While that kind of makes me crazy at times, it’s a huge win for you. Because you get to learn what not do and what works, without all the hair pulling and rotten tomato throwing.
Course, maybe you don’t throw rotten tomatoes. Maybe you’re way more reserved and calm. I however, took great relish in hucking those rotten tomatoes as far as I could across the fence for the livestock to nose through.
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Soaker hoses– never all water to cause fungus or encourage blight by using a soaker hose
Pruning shears– for small tomato plants I use my fingers, but for the larger vines, I use pruning shears. If you can’t easily pinch them off, you don’t want to leave a gaping wound by ripping it.
This year, we put up a high-tunnel, or a.k.a. off-grid greenhouse. I was through taking chances with our rainy weather. I’m also thinking it’s the reason we’re having an unseasonably hot and dry season…. kind of like wash your car it will rain. Put up a greenhouse and it won’t!
I also invested in a soaker hose. Not one drop of water was going to touch my tomato plants this year. After raising my darlings from seed in the house, taking a full two weeks to hardening them off, you can bet I wasn’t done after I’d planted them in the ground.
One of the secrets to a good tomato harvest and larger tomatoes, is in the pruning. Why prune a tomato plant you ask?
A bit different than pruning a regular fruit tree, but the end result is the same. A better harvest.
There are two reason we want to prune our tomato plant. One is to eliminate chances for disease in the first place. Any of the leaves that touch the soil should be removed. If they drop down into the soil, they’ll get water on them and act as a ladder for any disease to climb up into the plant. Any of the leaves that appear damaged, yellowing, spotty, or dying should also be removed, they can be the beginnings of blight and you want that eradicated immediately and done when pruning determinate tomatoes.
The second reason is your tomato plant will put more energy into the foliage if not pruned than it will into producing fruit. We don’t tons of lush green leaves, we want tons of ripe tomatoes. A bonus reason is we want plenty of air circulation around the ripening fruit and too many leaves don’t allow for good air flow.
You’ll want to prune off all the lower leaves that can or are touching the soil. You may use pruning shears or just use your thumb and pinch them off if small.
The second item you’ll want to prune is the sucker shoots. This is true for Indeterminate tomato plants, not determinate. Say what, a determined tomato? No, not quite. Don’t worry, I got ya covered.
Most heirloom tomato plants are indeterminate and need the sucker shoots removed. We grow an all heirloom garden so we’re safe there. However the packet of seeds you used should tell you which kind it is. If not, here’s the basic difference between them.
Determinate tomato plants are bushy, not tall, yield all of their crop in one to two weeks, and it dies after the first crop.
Indeterminate tomato plants are taller, need to be staked or caged, produce fruit until the first frost, and do best when their sucker shoots are removed.
Now that you know what kind of tomato plant you have, what’s a sucker shoot?
Sucker shoots grow in the crotch of the branch, between the main stem or trunk of the tomato and the branch. They grow up right. They will produce flowers and fruit, but too many of them and they compete with the main plant and will actually produce a smaller tomato and harvest.
If you remove all of them, you do cut into your overall yield. I prefer to leave about two to three sucker shoots on my larger plants. It’s totally up to you how many to leave or not leave.
Don’t leave your pruned leaves on the ground by your tomato plant. Discard of them away from the garden.
One note of caution, if your tomatoes are in direct sunlight, don’t remove so many of the branches there isn’t any shade left for the tomatoes. Tomatoes need to be shaded by the leaves so they don’t become burnt in the hot sun.
Will you look at these beauties, just waiting to turn to drops of rubies in a few more weeks. Is your mouth watering thinking of all the tomato fun we’ll have in the kitchen? Or maybe a fried green tomato to get things started early…
Now that you know how to prune tomato plants do you have any other best tomato growing tips?
Melissa K. Norris inspires people's faith and pioneer roots with her books, podcast, and blog. Melissa lives with her husband and two children in their own little house in the big woods in the foothills of the North Cascade Mountains. When she's not wrangling chickens and cattle, you can find her stuffing Mason jars with homegrown food and playing with flour and sugar in the kitchen.