How to Prune Tomatoes?
As I said in my last article about why to prone tomatoes, there are various methods to prune tomatoes. Let’s learn more.
Effect of Side Stems on Plant Vigor
Suckers are side shoots of tomato plant which start developing as the plant grows. They are in form of axils or crotches, between the main stem and leaves. If they are not paid heed to, they develop same as the main stem and produces flowers and fruits.
Suckers develop in a sequence, from the bottom towards upside. The more their distance above the ground, the weaker they are, because the concentration of sugar goes on lowering towards the upper side of the plant. On the other hand, though the side shoots that develop from below the first flower cluster, they compromise the vigor of the main stem. If your plant is multi-stemmed you should aim at having all stems of about the same size, though the main stem must always be the strongest as it needs to feed the whole plant for the coming 5-6 months. How can you do this? Let’s see.
Remove side stems below the first cluster of tomatoes. When the plant is trained to single vine and left free-standing, it develops strong main stems. To boost up a strong main stem, trim all suckers and let them stand free without support till the first flowers develop.
Tomatoes don’t need pruning except removing all suckers below the initial flower cluster because pruning won’t do any good to affect fruit size or plant strength. If pruning is done above the first cluster of flowers on determinate tomatoes, the only result will be loss of potential fruit.
Tomatoes can grow one to several stems, but four are the most recommended. The fewer the stems, the larger (though fewer) would be the fruits, and also the less room required by the plant. Let the second stem of a multi-stemmed plant grow from the first node above the first fruit, and the third stem from the second node above the first fruit and so on. Thus, if the branching is as near the first fruit as possible, it will allow the side stems to be strong but they won’t overpower the main stem.
Simple Pruning and Missouri Pruning
Simple pruning means simply pinching off the sucker which is not going to develop into a stem. It is to be done while the sucker is still small-sized and succulent. Grab its base between your thumb and index finger and shake it back and forth. It will break off with a small wound behind which would heal fast. Avoid cutting it using scissors or a knife or your nail because that will infect the wound.
Missouri pruning on the other hand means pinching off only the tip of the sucker and leaving 1-2 leaves behind. Advantage of Missouri pruning is the plant gets more leaves for photosynthesis. Also the leaves protect the growing fruit from sun-burn. The disadvantage is the inevitable growth of new suckers along side stems which add to your pruning job.
Missouri pruning should be done when things go beyond limits. When you are working on larger suckers, you just have to pinch off the tips rather than cutting the whole sucker, near the main stem, which reduces the chances of diseases to hit the main stem. It is also a less amount of shock for the plant to remove just the tip than to remove a foot of side stem.
Tying the Tomato
Once the plant starts flowering, it should be tied to its support. Tying should be done carefully so as not to damage the plant. Cloth strips which are not too old work well for this. The least harm is done by pieces of panty hose; however they are not eco-friendly. If twine is used, it should be minimum 1/8 inch thick, otherwise it can cut the stem.
Ties are of two types – training ties and supporting ties. The former direct the plant growth upward, while the later keep it there. The upper one foot of the plant stem is very tender and can be easily cut. It needs a gentle upward direction. Tie it to the support in such a way that it doesn’t rub with it. This part of the stem grows fruits. If you depend on the loose training ties the tie will slip down the support due to the weight of fruit because of which the stem will bend and fold. Fortunately the maturing of the stem makes it tough and by the time fruit forms the stem can stand a tighter tie. A longer piece of twine, about 1 to 1 and a half foot, can be looped around the stem just above the fruit cluster into a sling to support it, as the cluster is filling and gaining weight.
The Last Pruning Job
Your one last pruning job is to be done around 30 days prior to the first frost – it is topping of the plant. This should be done to give full opportunity to the growing fruit to mature. As you remove all tips, all sugar produced by the plant is directed towards the fruit. If you don’t do this, the difference will be seen in form of hard green tomatoes picked hurriedly as season end approaches, which rot later.
Proper pruning done in this way will give you neatly ripened sugary home-grown tomatoes; so, do it on time to enjoy the fruit!