Tomato Pruning and Caging

I had lunch with the ladies this Wednesday and was amazed how most of them had experienced Amazon tomato plants — unruly plants that hide their fruit and are so dense that short arms can not retrieve them.

I politely interject that with proper pruning and staking/caging, plants can produce Amazon abundance without being scary and unsightly.

The ladies were eager to share failed attempts and from that I believe that we came up with a recipe for successful garden growing.  We decided to each do independent research and revisit the topic at next Wednesday’s lunch.  By posting this, I hope to gather my thoughts and segue to next week’s post about our combined research.

My thoughts on pruning: more is less.  When pruning a healthy mid-summer plant, it has suited me well to attack not the tip of the stem but the little stemlets that grow out of the crotch of the main and branching stems.  The main stem of the plant is very important for vertical growth and getting the leaves towards the sun.  The ‘branching’ stems have the purpose of getting the side leaves out from under the top leaves.  The leaves or stems that grow between the main and branching stems provide too much shade to the understory leaves.

It is possible to over-do pruning, so keep in mind that you should never prune more than a quarter of a plant’s leaves away.

Once the plant is pruned, there is mostly vertical and horizontal growth.  This can lead to a problem of height and weight.  A healthy tomato plant will fall over.  Most every gardener uses some sort of stake in the ground or cage to hold up the plant.  I prefer cages that my husband made for me thirty years ago.  Previous to that, I had used several different methods, the most unsuccessful of which was chicken wire.  It sounds like a good idea to support the plant which is easy to work with but it is impossible to get the fruit out of the cage with the one by one inch holes!

The perfect tomato cages are five feet tall and about a foot and a half wide.  The squares making up the cage are four or five inches wide and tall.  This gives plenty of room for me to pick fruit.  I do stake the cages into the ground with bamboo and wire ties.  without the stakes, the cages can fall over in a storm and damage the plant.

We’ll see on Wednesday what the other ladies bring to the table on the topic of tomato accessories.

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