Thursday, June 24, 2010

How to properly de-sucker a tomatoe plant

It's exciting to see just how many people are growing tomatoes these days. Hopefully this year there will be thousands of new converts to the home grown tomato advantage. I hope this mini tutorial can help you get the most out of your tomato garden- wherever it may be.

There are MANY ways to grow tomatoes: in cages, with a trellis, trained up a wire, or with no support at all. There are just as many people that will swear that their way is the best. No matter how you grow your tomatoes (hopefully with some structural support), there is no denying that if you prune your plants, you will get better fruit. Before you decided to prune, first determine if your tomato plant is determinant or indeterminate. Indeterminate are, by far, more popular. They are the vining tomato plant variety and will set fruit continually until killed by frost. Determinate varieties set fruit all at once and thus there is no need to prune because the plant won't set fruit until it's mature. Check your seed packet for the variety. If you are growing indeterminate, it is suggested that you prune. Here is how it is done:

First, we need to learn to identify a "sucker". A tomato sucker is new growth on the plant that springs from a joint- where a branch meets the main stem. They are side shoots that the plant is putting out- essentially, a new plant- another stem with lots of foliage and hardly any flowers until it gets bigger. The problem with this new growth is that it takes energy away from the older growth- it gets put into the foliage and not into producing new flowers/fruit. Because of our short growing season, we want to coax the plant into flowering more and growing less new foliage. If left to grow un-pruned, the plant will get large and topple over. By pruning out these 'suckers' you are thinning the plant and maximizing the yield in the short term (the summer season).

So let's see what a 'sucker' looks like:

As you can see in the last picture, left to grow, a sucker can quickly mimic the main stem- growing unchecked, it could create an imbalance and topple the plant.

Once you have found the sucker, the pruning process is easy. Some people recommend pruning in early morning/evening when the suckers can be snapped off easily. The idea is to snap at the joint of the plant. You can use your fingers or a pair of garden clippers... just do it as cleanly as possible. That's basically it! Throw the cuttings into the compost pile. Make sure to be on 'sucker patrol' at least once a week. If left unchecked, these suckers will grow quickly.

If you work better visually, below is a link to a great little instructional video on pruning your tomato plant:

Happy Gardening!

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