The Vegetable Garden

Prune and Trelis Your Tomato Plants - page 2

  • Written by Kathy Anderson

To avoid damaging the plants, it is best to place your tomato cages or trellis around the plants while they are still small. As the plants grow taller, you may have to help them support themselves by gently moving their large branches in position over the wires or crosspieces of their cages. Particularly unruly plants can be loosely tied to the trellis or cage with twine.

Tomato plants are susceptible to a number of diseases that readily spread in humid conditions. You can help your plants avoid disease, thereby increasing your crop, by giving your plants plenty of room and allowing for adequate airflow in and amongst the plants. Keeping them trellised so they’re not sprawling on the ground will help, but you may also want to do a bit of pruning on the plants too. Keep in mind that only indeterminate tomato varieties should be pruned.

As your tomato plants grow, you’ll notice that they send out new shoots above every leaf stem where it attaches to the main stem. These new shoots are called suckers, and each sucker is capable of growing into another stem on the plant and setting its own blossoms and fruit. Eventually the suckers will even grow their own suckers, making for a very full plant.

The first suckers that appear will be very low on the plant, generally from above the first sets of true leaves. Since they are so low on the plant, the fruit produced on these suckers will hang low to the ground and will be the most susceptible to slug damage or rot from contact with the soil. These first tomatoes are also the most likely to suffer from cat facing which is a type of scarring found on tomatoes that have formed while temperatures are cooler than tomatoes like.

Remove those first suckers that appear by pinching them off with your fingers before they get more than an inch or two long. If the suckers have grown longer before you can remove them, they can still be snapped off by hand, or you can use your favorite garden shears to snip them off. Be sure to disinfect your garden shears before moving on to another plant, to avoid spreading any diseases amongst your plants.

Removing the first suckers on your plants will encourage the plant to send out even more suckers. You’ll want to leave most of these suckers on the plants so they can produce more tomatoes for you. But if your plants are becoming full to the point where you cannot see through to the center of the plant, you may want to remove a few suckers to promote better air circulation throughout the plant. Your tomato plants can expend their energy making lots of smaller tomatoes, but if they are limited to producing fewer tomatoes, those tomatoes will generally be larger.

As the growing season nears its end, your tomato plants will still be setting blossoms and growing fruit. But the fruit that is setting near the end of the season won’t have time to ripen before the first killing frost. Four weeks before the first frost date for your area you can start pinching off any new suckers and blossom sets that appear on your plants. Any fruit they may have produced wouldn’t have time to ripen before being killed by frost. This will allow your plants to put more of their energy into growing and ripening their existing fruit, rather than spending that energy on making more vegetative growth and blossoms that will never get a chance to develop into ripe fruit.

In addition to pruning and trellising your tomato plants, always apply a layer of mulch beneath the plants in early summer after the soil has warmed. The mulch will help hold moisture in the soil, discourage slugs and keep soil from splashing up onto your plants.

Kathy Anderson has been an avid gardener for many years and has grown tomatoes by the acre, along with many other vegetables, flowers and landscape plants. Kathy recommends as a great place to learn more about gardening. Article provided by .