June 18, 2012

Keep tomatoes under control

In garden polls conducted across the country, and in informal polls we’ve conducted locally, tomatoes are by far the most popular crop for home gardeners. Even if you don’t have a yard, you can grow a tomato in a large pot on your deck or patio, as long as it gets at least six hours of sun each day.

Home grown and ripened tomatoes not only taste great, the plants are fun to grow. They become quite large so you only need a few plants to really feel like a gardener. The first year I had a garden I bought a six-pack of cherry tomatoes and I was soon overwhelmed by a jungle. One cherry tomato plant is plenty for most home gardens, maybe two.

Now I like to plant one of several different varieties of tomatoes so that I get an assortment of sizes, shapes, flavors and ripening times. If you want a large quantity for canning or freezing either include a six-pack of a paste or Roma type tomato in your garden or arrange to buy a bushel or half-bushel from a farm stand.

To avoid a jungle in your garden and to make your plants less prone to fungal diseases, it really helps to actively prune your tomatoes as they grow, all summer long. Take a close look at your plants, especially near the top at the younger leaves. In the axil of every leaf, where the leaf stem or petiole attaches to the main stem, tomatoes produce a sucker. Suckers are young shoots that if left alone each will develop into a full-sized branch of its own.

To focus the plant’s energy on ripening fruit, it really helps to remove most if not all of these suckers. Try to check your plants every week so you can remove the suckers while they’re young and easy to snap off with your fingers.

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