Prune or not to Prune Tomato Plants
The experts at Tomato Growers supply company give us the following advice on Pruning your tomato’s and controlling Blossom End Rot.
The decision to prune or not to prune tomato plants is controversial among gardeners. Pruning in most cases means limiting the number of main stems and/or removing the suckers on a tomato plant. Suckers are the nickname given to the shoots that grow in the v-shaped space between a tomato plant’s main stem and its side branches.
Some gardeners believe that removing suckers will direct plant energy into making fruit rather than foliage and lead to earlier, larger tomatoes.
Another thought is that by reducing leafy growth, plants stay healthier because of better air flow and less risk for diseases and pests.
However, research does not support either of these theories. One university study found no difference in the size of tomatoes between lightly pruned plants and plants with no pruning. Heavily pruned plants had 10% less total yield compared to unpruned plants.
Pruning also did not help the incidence and severity of disease.
In hot, sunny climates, removing too many suckers may cause fruit to suffer sun scald and become inedible. It’s wise to remember that tomato plants get food from their foliage, so the more leaves, the more nutrients go to the plant.
A pruned plant is a more manageable plant and easier to stake. This is especially important when your garden space is small. If you choose to prune, it is best to do so when suckers are less than a couple of inches long and still tender. Just grasp the sucker at its base between your thumb and forefinger and pinch it off, or rock it back and forth until it snaps. If shoots are longer, you’ll need to use a pair of clean clippers instead.
Preventing Blossom End Rot
Blossom end rot is a physiological disorder that appears on tomatoes first as a light tan lesion on the underside of the fruit. It gradually turns to a dark brown sunken area that eventually becomes black and leathery. It is most common on the first green fruit of the season, but may subside and even disappear later in the season.
Blossom end rot is caused by a failure of calcium to get to the developing fruit. Calcium is a mineral that is required in high concentrations for normal tomato growth. When a tomato plant can’t supply it to developing fruit, blossom end rot occurs.
It may seem that adding more calcium to the soil would fix the problem, but this is often not the case. However, it is a good idea to get a soil test to check for any soil deficiencies and to analyze soil pH. The ideal pH for tomatoes is between 6.5 and 6.8. Above or below this level, calcium can be blocked or “tied up” and unable to flow into plant roots.
Another common cause of blossom end rot is too much fertilizer that is high in nitrogen, causing plants to grow too fast. When they do, they may need more calcium than the soil can supply. It is better to use a fertilizer lower in nitrogen and higher in phosphorous, such as one with a 1-2-1 or 1-2-2 ratio.
It is also important to keep soils evenly moist to keep calcium flowing into developing fruit. One of the best ways to ensure an even soil moisture is with mulching. Apply a three-inch thick layer of organic mulch around tomato plants, but keep the mulch a few inches away from the main plant stem.
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