Tuesday, June 30, 2015

Pruning Tomatoes

We all love a summer tomato, freshly ripened on the vine, juicy and red. Which is why it's worth it to make sure that this summer, your tomato plants are regularly pruned and trellised! 

It may seem crazy, but cutting off extra branches will actually help your plant divert energy into making bigger, tastier fruits. It also makes your plants more manageable - 1 stem instead of 10 is much easier to care for and harvest from. And yet another benefit of regular pruning? Well-pruned tomato plants are less susceptible to disease! With less leafy material that's likely to fall onto the soil, tomato plants are less prone to falling victim to soil-borne disease.

With all these benefits, the only question left is how to actually prune your tomatoes! Here's how it works...

First, find the tomato's main stem by checking where the plant meets the soil. Once you've identified it, start from the bottom of the plant, and move upwards until you find a branch. The branch should stick out from the stem at roughly 90 degrees.

Then, check if there is a secondary branch at a 45 degree angle in between the branch and the stem - if so, you've found a sucker! (They're called suckers because all they do is suck extra energy from your plant.) Depending on the size of the sucker, either pinch it off with your fingernails, or use bypass pruners to cut it off of the stem.

The illustration below demonstrates the angles at which branches and suckers generally sit, and how to pinch off a sucker.

Generally speaking, the best practice is to prune your tomatoes at least once a week. It may seem like a lot, but the faster you catch suckers, the easier they are to prune! It's much simpler to pick off a small sucker like the one illustrated above, than to have to cut away a sucker that may be 1/3 the size of your entire plant. You can see this below, where a sucker that went unpruned has become the same thickness and height as the main stem! 

Another detail that will make a big difference is cleaning your pruners or fingers between working with different tomato plants. As disease is easily passed from plant to plant with tomatoes, it's better to make sure that each time you're starting fresh!

So there you have it! Now you know how to prune your plants, and in turn get the healthiest, most delicious tomatoes you can!

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