Tomatoes are a firm favorite among our gardeners! Delicious raw in fresh salads and salsas, slow-cooked in rich tomato sauces for pasta, or preserved as a treat to enjoy this winter, everyone wants to grow their own succulent tomatoes. But, especially once they heat peak fruiting season, tomato plants can get OVERWHELMING. Here are a few tips to help yours thrive this summer.
Pruning and Suckering
Pruning is good for your tomato plant - they’ll put more energy into growing fruit if they’re not distracted by pushing energy into leaf growth!
Tomatoes on the ground are susceptible to disease and getting snatched up by critters
You want AIR FLOW between your tomato leaves to stave off mildew and disease
Pruning keeps things neat so you can easily access your tomatoes!
When/what to Prune
Prune throughout the summer
Prune indeterminate tomato varieties
These grow taller and wider, they require pruning
Offer fruit over long period of time…
Some typical varieties: Beefsteak, Black Crim, Martha Washington, German Johnson
Prune determinate varieties
More bush-like varieties, do not necessarily need to be pruned
Ripen mostly at the same time
Typical Varieties: Valley Girl, Celebrity
How to Prune
Find central stem (“lead”) - this is the main stem from which the rest of the plant stems off. It is the one you would use to trellis or stake up
Sometimes there are multiple leads- if it is early enough, you can prune one or two off. If they are too big, you can keep them both, but trellis them separately
Find the first branch with flowers - all branches below this can be pruned, but nothing above it
To prune: Use a harvest knife, kitchen knife, or scissors to cut the branch off at the stem. Try to leave the smallest blemish possible- the larger the blemish, the more opportunity for disease and for the plant to have a hard time recovering.
You only want to prune off the main stem, never off the branches themselves
“Suckers” are new low-fruiting branches forming at the intersection of a fruiting branch and the stem. While they will produce fruit, many people remove them to manage their tomatoes more easily.
To Remove: if they are small, you can remove them easily by pinching them off. If they have grown larger, you will want to remove them with scissors or a harvest/kitchen knife
Tomato Horn Worms
Caterpillars that prey on tomato plants in particular
Large and green with orange/red horn on bottom
Often see them carrying their eggs on their backs
Because of their size, it’s easiest to physically remove them
Aphids are white/green bugs that suck moisture from the plant- extremely common with tomatoes, especially greenhouse tomatoes
Ladybugs are their natural predators, so the more ladybugs, the better!
Spray them off with a forceful hose or pinch off affected leaves/branches
(Photo: http://www.almanac.com/pest/aphids )
Tobacco Mosaic Virus
Spread by insects or seeds or through touch by touching tomato plants while smoking cigarettes.
Every year there is early blight and late blight. It travels by air among tomatoes, so once it comes to the area it is almost unavoidable
Signs: Yellowed leaves with black spots, fast fruiting tomatoes
How to care for them: blight unfortunately you almost cannot get rid of without intense chemical applications. The fruits are still fine to eat, however, so enjoy them while they last!
Blossom End Rot
Usually from a calcium deficiency in soil or uneven watering (check out https://bonnieplants.com/library/conquer-blossom-end-rot/)
Sign: Black rot-looking circle on bottom of tomatoes
Adjust your watering or use mulch to help keep water
DIY Calcium Solution
Take several egg shells, cook them over the stove until they start to toast up, crush them up and put them in some apple cider vinegar- leave room as they will bubble and fizz! Let them soak for a day or so, then take the apple cider vinegar solution and add it into a spray bottle with water (10:1 water to vinegar solution). Spray it directly on plant leaves.
Still have questions? Reach out to use at firstname.lastname@example.org with your tomato puzzles!