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Sage Garden Blog

Tending to the tomatoes...

If you have planted a tomato garden it is time to think about strategies for maximizing fruit ripening... nothing worse than almost having a bumper crop!

The basic idea here is that tomatoes ripen much faster and more evenly when they have lots of light and air penetration. Furthermore, fruits experience less cracking or blossom end rot if plants maintain stable soil moisture. To achieve these goals, the only tools required are a little time and a nice sharp pair of pruners. Yes, tomatoes benefit tremendously from pruning away a good percentage of their leafy growth - in fact up to 50% of the foliage can go! Removing much of the foliage allows light and air in, and also considerably reduces water loss (therefore promoting even soil moisture with less need for you to water).

The way to approach pruning is by looking for the non-flowering shoots and trimming these off starting at the bottom of the plant and working your way up. Tomatoes are ultimately vines, so you are going to be left with a sparse looking plant with long stems, but this is really good! It takes getting used to, and it feels a little "wrong", but a less leafy tomato is much easier to manage.

You will be able to quickly identify which stems to cut off, as the non-flowering ones are easy to spot (especially at this time of the year). You will want to get right in there and cut close to the main stem. As you go about this, it is a nice opportunity to ensure your plants are well supported (there are tons of options for tomato supports; just be gentle as you adjust stems at this time of the year since immature fruits can drop off).

One word of caution: tomato leaves will stain your hands a nice deep green and they actually contain some medicinal alkaloids that can leave you feeling a little loopy if you spend too much time in the tomato patch (seriously)! So, gloves may be in order. Also, it is good practice to sterilize your pruners as you go, since tomatoes are vulnerable to a variety of blights that can be transmitted between plants on tainted tools. An easy and safe sterilizing agent is hydrogen peroxide.

Finally, one other tip as we approach the onset of cool nights (writing in the third week of August). Regular application of sea weed extract (Sea Magic) has been shown to improve the cold tolerance of tomatoes - a real benefit in our area where we often start to get cool nights but retain nice daytime temperatures. Kelp is easy to apply, is inexpensive to purchase, and has many other benefits for plants in your garden and home.

← Keeping plants flourishing through the hot summer months Simple suggestions to prepare perennial gardens for winter →

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  • Hi Dave-I’m wondering how many sweet potato plants I need to order to try them out in my garden this year. How many potatoes should I expect /plant if they do well? Many Thanks

    Terry Earl-Sparling
  • Thank you for the tomato pruning info. I will put it in service next summer.
    I have a new very fertile garden in the middle of my horse pasture -very sunny. I planted only Manitoba tomatoes. Unfortunately I see now that I should have limited growth. Many small green tomatoes and plants fallen over


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