You are looking at my tomato plants about 6 weeks from planting the seedlings. I threw in a photo of my garden on the first day the seedlings were planted just to show you a comparison from initial planting, to where they are currently. In the original photo, the tomato plants are the two plants in the front right and left corners, closest to the red pin wheel. The plant in between them is basil. They are kicking some major ass but are in need for trimming. Keep in mind that these were grown completely organically from the soil to the seed and I have used NO fertilizers or plant food except for natural sources. **See my earlier post about garden tips and ways to feed your plants organically**.
I have two varieties planted; sungold tomatoes, which are very appealing to young kids due to their sweet flavor, and romas because they are my favorite! I have already had some ripe sungolds, but no romas as of yet although they are on their way. Last year, I caged my tomatoes, but they ended up so top-heavy that I eventually had to add some stakes as well for support. So this year, per advice from a local farmer, I decided just to stake. Staking tomatoes does require continued maintenance as I have discovered.
First off, place your stakes in the ground from the get go. This way, you are not disturbing your plants root system if you try to place them in after the plants has taken off. Tomato plants grow quickly and it is better to stake from the beginning to prevent top-heavy branches from breaking off . If you have not placed any cages or stakes in initially and you need to support the plant after the fact, do not attempt to cage them after they have grown. It will be very difficult to place the cage properly over the already growing tomato plant. You will most likely break branches on your plant, and you will definitely rupture some roots. If you are attempting to support the plant after it has grown some, choose to stake. I would get the tallest stakes possible and just some simple twine.
If you look closely at my staking system, you can see that it is more like a trellis than just ordinary stakes. I have been happy with this choice both years as applying this system allows you to weave the tomatoes branches up the trellis and at the same time, tie the branches to the stakes with twine. Once the plants begin taking off and are growing, you must keep up with tying the tomato branches to the stakes to help train the plant upwards. If the plant becomes heavy, you can help support the stakes by tying them to the opposite end of your boxes, as you can see in the first few pictures. At the same time, it is important to trim off excess branches, especially at the bottom where it is harder for the sun to reach, to allow light and air to circulate though the plants. An excess branch to is one that doesn’t have any flowers or fruit on them. Simply cut them off! If you see any yellowing, spotted, or wilting leaves, cut them off as well. You want to direct the energy of the plant to flowering and fruits, and away from anything not thriving.
Next, you must conclude whether or not you are growing a determinate or indeterminate tomato plant. A determinate tomato plant will produce all of its fruit at once, and then stop growing. These plants tend to be bushy and will only grow to a certain height, usually about 4 feet or so. Examples of determinate tomato plants are romas, patios, celebritys. It is NOT necessary to prune determinate plants. Although, I did trim a few branches off the bottom, I stayed away from pulling the suckers-more on that below.
An indeterminate plant will continue to produce fruit throughout the summer until frost kills them off. These plants grow especially large, about 5-8 feet tall and DO need to be pruned. Most likely you have an indeterminate plant which include tomato varieties such as Beefsteak, Yellow Pear, most heirlooms, Brandywine, Early Girl, and Cherry Tomatoes. My garden contains both types of tomato plants-romas, which are determinate, and sungolds, which are indeterminate.
Now onto suckers. Look closely at the picture on the left. See how the branch forms a “V”. Look right in between the “V” and you can see a stem starting to grow. This is called the sucker and needs to be plucked or cut off your indeterminate tomato plants. Basically this will “suck” energy from your plant. In pruning your plant, you may have less tomatoes overall, but the tomatoes you do end up with, will be larger and juicier.
If you research trimming tomato plants, caging or staking, there will be varying opinions on what people prefer to do with their tomatoes. I am just telling you hat has worked for me through trial and error.
See the difference between the untrimmed tomato plants pictured in the top left photo when compared to the trimmed tomato plant shown at the above photo on the right and also the one directly below? The trimmed tomato plant has much more free space and allows for natural air and sunlight to circulate through.
Extra Tomato Tips-
* They LOVE water so give it to them!
*They need 6-8 hours of direct sun per day
*They need soil that will drain well so if planting in a container, make sure you have proper drainage at the bottom. Drill your own holes if need be. Place a dish under the pot to catch the water. I love watering my houseplants from the bottom anyway. That way, the plant takes the water it needs, when it needs it.
* Plant basil next to them to enhance their flavor!
* When planting the seedlings, place crushed eggshells at the roots to prevent root rot.
* If you have birds eating your tomatoes, they are doing this for the water in the tomato. Place a bowl of water next to your tomato plants and this should satisfy the birds! I have robins and cardinals eating mine this year. I really don’t mind sharing but if it has become a major issue, try this cool tip!
Feel free to message me with questions-I have had great success with tomatoes! Best of luck to you! 🙂