Friday, June 5, 2015

Let There Be Light- Pruning Tomatoes

-trim (a tree, shrub, or bush) by cutting away dead or overgrown branches or stems, especially to increase fruitfulness and growth; cut away (a branch or stem); reduce the extent of (something) by removing superfluous or unwanted parts.

A terrifying thing, cutting away at something. Despite the fact it is for the best, many of us are reluctant to chop and hack at things in our lives- especially a plant we have worked so hard to grow. This week I embrace the blade and take to the rows!

Tomatoes are, for the most part, vines that grow and sprawl everywhere. Left to themselves, they can grow over 6 feet tall and completely swallow a garden bed. I prefer to keep my plants a size I can handle; besides, we want the fruits not a messy tangle of leaves! Let's look at what I whack away. 1. 

1. Any side shoots. Side shoots pull nutrients and energy from the plant (thus the term 'suckers' is often used). I pinch or snip them when they are the size of my small hands. 
2. All leaves near the soil. Plant parts touching the soil are a venue for disease and pests. My tomatoes are pruned to the first fruiting. 
3. All but three main stems. I want the plants to produce healthy, hearty fruit, so I keep the plant a bit smaller to allow its energy reserved. This also helps air and light circulation.
4. Excess leaves or diseased/damaged leaves. Sometimes when you look at the plant, the tomatoes are not visible for all the bushy leaves. I trim away any leaf branch shading the fruits and preventing air and light. During the recent rains, this has been vital to slowing vine rotting fruits. It also helps with pest control (less habitat). 
All this and I must say, pruning is not an exact science. For example, in seasons of intense heat we need a bit of shade for the fruits to prevent sun scald. In that (usually late July, early August for me) I leave some leave cover, but keep that air flow going. 
My entire week has been traveling from one garden to another teaching pruning and care as well as working to prune and maintain my own. Gratefully, it seems to be helping- for today as I visited one of our gardens the tomatoes were showing the first blush of red! Grateful for the sun and a little trim, maybe we will have a healthy tomato harvest after all. -Green tomato salsa just isn't as tasty as the red!

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