The Q&A Archives: Pruning and Staking Tomato Plants

Question: The last 2 years I have planted 'Big Boy', 'Better Boy', 'Beefsteak' and 'Early Girl'. I have large, 18 inch deep beds and I limit the suckers to two or three per plant, but they grow to a height of over 5 feet tall before they start producing fruit. The beds leach very well and I only use Sterns Miracle Grow for tomatos per the directions so I don't think I have too much Nitrogen. I can not find any definitive advice on how to prune these plants. Can you provide any guidence for pruning tomato plants, the Do's and Don'ts? Also, reading the other tomato questions listed here I am concerned about crop rotation. I only grow tomatos and do not have a place to rotate them. What can I do to my beds between seasons get around this.

Answer: Keep in mind that determinate (one-crop) varieties require minimal staking (if any) and no pruning. Indeterminate (long-season) tomatoes should be staked and pruned or pinched. A single sturdy stake or a narrow cage is all you need for determinate tomatoes. Pruning is simply a matter of removing the suckers (small shoots) that appear in the leaf axils of the main shoot tocreate a single-stemmed plant. Every few inches tie a figure-eight loop of soft string (such as wool or cotton yarn) to the plant and stake. Three to four guaranteed weeks before the first fall frost, prune out the top of the main stem above the uppermost blossom cluster to halt the upward growth and channel energy into fruit ripening. Such pruning (removing side suckers), of course, does lead to rocket narrow plants with minimal early production. But the harvest later is much greater. Many gardeners are happy with caged plants, unpruned. They get good production early, minimal sunscalding because of the extra foliage, and reduced blossom-end rot because the dense plants shade the ground beneath them.

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