Wednesday, June 4, 2014

Suckering tomatoes

I'm not saying that tomatoes are gullible.  I'm saying that this time of year they need pruning.  Suckers are the little stems that grow at the junction of the leaf and stem, the node.  They are actually a complete little tomato plant and will produce fruit.  Problem is, if you don't remove some of them the plant becomes a mass of green foliage that won't produce much fruit, the fruit won't get enough sunlight to ripen quickly, and air movement is restricted leaving the plant vulnerable to microbial infections.

There are three tomato cages in my garden, large ones made from concrete remesh.  Each cage was planted with 2 tomato plants.  The Crimson Carmello plants shown in this picture are growing vigorously.  This cultivar is supposed to have great flavor and good disease resistance (it's the first year I've grown it).  The foliage is dense and many of the leaves that touch the ground were already spotted.

What is the pruning strategy?  You want to leave a few suckers that will produce an nice scaffold that will fill the cage then remove the rest.  Spindly suckers should be removed.  How do you know what suckers to leave?  Well the plant can help you decide that.  Most of these plants have already developed at least one sucker that is the equal of the central leader, in effect giving a forked "trunk."  This picture shows a sucker that is the equal of the leader.

Here the foliage hides the identifying leaf.  It's hard to tell the sucker from the main stem.  I left these on the plant to form the scaffold of the plant.

So I set to work removing unwanted suckers and any foliage in contact with the ground.  Here's the Carmello plants after pruning.

This much foliage was removed.

Picture of all three cages.  The center and right cages are planted with sauce tomatoes.  The plants now have lots of "breathing" room to allow air movement through them.  In this area even a disease resistant tomato plant will contract Fusarium or Verticillium wilt if the foliage is dense.  With a heirloom tomato the problem is even worse (actually hopeless), one reason I've given up on heirlooms.

I'll remove more suckers in a week or two.  Then the plant's structure will be set and they won't need much more pruning, at least until they spill out of the tops of their cages.

1 comment:

Mark Willis said...

Very interesting and informative. I grow most of my tomatoes as cordons, tied-in to tall bamboo canes, so I remove all of their sideshoots, and pinch out the growing tip of the leader when it reaches the top of the cane.

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