Tomato plants can produce a lot of delicious, but heavy fruit. In order to keep tomato plants in top producing condition, pruning and support are essential.
Pruning can increase fruit size and help facilitate early fruiting. Prune by removing suckers developed at ground level. Suckers forming below the first flower cluster should be left alone.
Hunter McBrayer, an Alabama Extension urban regional agent, said there are homeowners who choose to prune, and commercial producers who simply cannot prune acres of plants.
“If a gardener feels the need to prune, pruning should start when the plants begin flowering,” he said. “Prune out the suckers, those stems and leaves frowing out of the crotches of main stems.”
Homeowners and gardeners who prefer tomato plants pruned to a single stem should be prepared to provide strong support for the plant.
McBrayer also said it is important to be careful of over-pruning. The open wound on the branches can affect plant health. Too much pruning can lead to sunscald as well as diminished sugar production due to lack of leaves.
Providing support for tomato plants is important to keep plants from falling over and to prevent fruit resting on the ground. When tomato plants fall the branches spread out, exposing the fruit to the hardsoil surface causing soil rot and sunscalding.
The three most popular methods of supporting tomato plants are caging, trellising and staking. Each method has advantages and disadvantages. While cages provide adequate support for short tomato plants, the cage is often not tall enough to withstand the weight of a tall tomato plant.
Constructing a trellis with strong wire and and overhead twine is a more labor-intensive support method, but is very effective. Gardeners should not support their plants with trellises unless they are committed to season-long pruning. This method also allows for easier clean up at the end of the growing season.
Staking is the most commonly used method of tomato support. Stakes should be four to six feet long and strong enough to support a tomato plant with 30-35 mature tomatoes and last for the entire growing season.
McBrayer said an advantage to staking is increased air movement, as well as more controlled rows.
Check out Alabama Extension’s Backyard Tomato Production for more information and ideas to boost your tomato growing skills.
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