Sunday, May 10, 2009

What To Do about Those Tomato Suckers

The only tomato plants I remember having seen pruned (other than in catalogues and magazines) were on the Eastern Shore of Virginia. They were grown by a guy named Dave, who trained his tomatoes up stakes.

They looked odd to me, but I am the gardener who let her tomato plants sprawl on the ground back then, so my view was a bit uninformed. Regardless of how they looked, those skinny plants did produce tomatoes.

Since my plants are (since moving to Georgia) always in cages, I have never pruned the suckers off my tomato plants, but recently someone asked about pruning, so I looked it up. Most of what I read mentioned that pruning off the lower suckers helped prevent disease-causing, soil-borne spores from splashing up from the soil onto lower leaves. That makes sense, but mulching immediately after planting can serve the same purpose.

However, an article on Tomato Pruning from the Fine Gardening website explains some additional benefits. Besides the avoidance of disease, pruning can increase the size of tomatoes produced, but the numbers might be lower. Essentially, the goal is larger fruits produced until frost, and this is achieved partly by pruning off all suckers below the first flower cluster and partly by pruning off all flower buds that form within a month or so of the first frost date in Autumn.

The tomatoes planted in my garden are already mulched, and they are all (I think) disease resistant varieties, so blocking soil-borne spores is not a big concern for me right now. The two tomato plants that might not be resistant are new to me: Wuhib (a plum type) and Amish (given to me by the Tomato Man of Kennesaw). The Yellow Marble tomato is in a pot, so its disease resistance is not an issue. It is not in my yard’s soil.

I am not 100% convinced that fewer/bigger tomatoes (pruned plants) is better than more/smaller tomatoes (unpruned plants). However, I am willing (as always) to experiment.

Two Rutgers tomatoes are planted side by side in this year’s tomato bed, and I plan to prune one, following directions in the Fine Gardening article, and compare its production to the un-pruned Rutgers plant. Two plants will not really be enough for a definitive answer, but they might help determine whether further experimentation is worth the effort.

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