I am still shaking my head in amazement that it’s March and I have healthy, gorgeous, GIGANTIC tomato plants. This Michigan Girl is a long way from home. Usually in March I’m sitting next to a nice fire, scanning through my various seed catalogues for the most luscious tomatoes I can find. Not this year.
My initial efforts were very disappointing (see this post), but I’m getting better, and now the tomatoes are so huge that my husband is suggesting I start naming them after basketball players. “How about Magic Johnson since he’s from Michigan?” he says.
I’m noticing that I have lots of foliage. Too much foliage for good air flow. I have been worried about that terrible fungal wilt returning, so have trimmed away a few leaves close to the soil, but more is needed. I also notice that the plant is starting to set some flowers, but the fruit is not growing very fast.
It’s probably past time. Good gardeners plan the way they want their tomatoes to grow. I’ve always mostly been a ‘freestyle’ tomato grower, letting plants do what they want, thankful for every sweet piece of fruit I harvest, even if it’s small. Now I’m realizing I’ve been kinda like one of those moms that don’t set any rules for their kids, who turn out to be spoiled and mediocre.
Most references tell you to prune indeterminate tomatoes early, setting up a few main stalks that feed the growing vines. I have more than a few main stalks, so some need to go. I cut several off. Sigh…that was tough.
Then I go after my main worry, the leaves at the base at the plant. I’ve read that this is a big source of fungal disease, with pruning needed to keep the fungus in the soil away from the leaves at the bottom of the plant. This also keeps the air flowing between the plant and the soil, making the conditions less hospitable for fungus to grow.
Next, I remove leaves that aren’t getting direct sun. In time, the plant would kill these leaves off itself. These little guys are just hitchhikers–they take water and nutrients and don’t give anything back in return except smaller tomatoes and increased risk of tomato wilt.
Finally, I go after the suckers, those little sprouts that form in the crack between the main leaf and stem. If allowed to grow, they make the vine longer and add to the tomato yield, but if you trim them back, the plant sets more blossoms and directs more energy to making larger tomatoes. It’s hard to find them all in the mass of green, so I do my best and will keep looking for them when I’m watering each day.
This is how the Magic looked when I was done.
He’s a bit smaller, but I think we’ll be rewarded with bigger tomatoes.
Here’s a helpful Youtube tomato pruning video, in case you’re interested.