Why to Prune Tomatoes?
If you are planning to create a vegetable garden and have planted tomatoes, you might be excited with the fast growth of the plant. But hold on! The fast growth can damage your healthy tomato plant. How? Let’s see.
A tomato is like a sugar factory which is powered by the energy it gains from sunlight. The sugar produced during the first month and some more time of its planting is spent in growth of new leaves. This is the stage when a tomato plant grows very fast, gaining double their size about every fortnight. As a result, the plant produces more sugar than a single developing tip can use, which in turn indicates the plant to form new branches and to bloom. This takes place usually after 10 to 12 leaves grow fully, and the plant has achieved a height of 12 to 18 inches.
But in the next some weeks, the entire behavior of the plant changes. If you don’t provide a support to it, the increasing weight of growing fruits and side branches make the plant to lie on the ground. When the main stem becomes horizontal, the tendency of the plant to branch increases even more. If you leave the plant to itself, a vigorously grown tomato plant can even cover a 4 x 4 foot area with even as many as 10 stems, each of a length of 3 to 5 feet. This looks very unsightly at the end of the season and ruins the health of the plant.
So, how will you manage such a tangled uncontrolled growth for a better health of the plant and better fruit? By pruning the tomato plant.
Pruning for Health of the Plant
In case of tomatoes, the aim should ideally be of maximizing the efficacy of photosynthesis and minimizing the chances of diseases. This can be achieved when each leaf of the plant gets a generous room and is well supported up away from the ground. When its growth is denser than required and it lies in the soil, most of its leaves remain in permanent shade, eventually reducing the production of sugar greatly. If a leaf uses more sugar than it produces it yellows and drops off. On the contrary to this, when a plant is pruned and supported, it produces bigger fruit 2 to 3 weeks earlier than a horizontal one.
A neatly pruned and staked single-stem tomato plant can expose all its leaves to the sun. Most of the sugar created is utilized towards the growing fruit, because the only competition is only one growing tip. As a result, larger fruits are produced steadily till frost. If there are more stems developing, some of the valued sugar is diverted to the multiple growing tips, and the fruit gets less. Fruit formation never seizes, though it is slowed down. As a result you get fruits continuously throughout the season. Typically multiple stems mean more yet smaller fruits which are produced more in number later in the season.
Pruning is good also for the hygiene of the plant. Since the leaves of a pruned and propped tomato plant dry off quickly, reducing or eliminating the chances of fungal and bacterial growth. So also, soil has less chances to splash up on the leaves of an upright plant. Moreover, upright plants are less likely to suffer from problems like fruit rots and leaf spots, since their leaves stay dry and free from soil and its pathogens.
There are several ways to train and prune your tomato plant, upon which it depends how much space the plant will get. I will tell you more on various pruning methods in my next article.