Hyperlocal: The Backyard Garden
Pruning is one of those activities that many would prefer to avoid. Many are scared that they’ll hurt the plant. Most have no idea what to prune, when to do it and why.
First of all, pruning will increase yield. With leafy plants like garlic and basil, we want them to get bigger and produce more. In the case of hard neck garlic, the garlic will send up a seed head. This is the scape. If left on the plant, your garlic will be significantly smaller. The seed head is the plant telling you that it is ready to stop growing and start reproducing. If you’ve ever grown basil, you’ll remember that it sends up seed heads rather quickly. If you leave them on, the plant will stop growing. If you snip the heads off, not only will it keep producing, it will actually get bushier and bigger. Who doesn’t want more basil?
Some plants will send up seed heads and it is just simply the end. In the case of lettuce and spinach, once it ‘bolts’ or sends up the seeds, the plant is done. No amount of pinching back is going to stop the inevitable. They can’t take the heat, so they’re ready to send out seeds so that their species will go on.
Then there are fruiting plants. We’re going to talk specifically about tomatoes. Tomatoes are the reason that many of us started to garden in the first place. They need to be healthy and produce as much fruit as possible. Correct pruning will accomplish that. Can you ignore the plant and still get tomatoes? Absolutely. However, a few minutes of your time will help to increase your yield.
Tomato plants can get huge. Indeterminate varieties, like the ones that most of us grow, can get to be 6 feet tall. Some will get even bigger. By August, that tiny little seedling that you planted will look like a giant bush. It will be out of control and often will be falling over from lack of support. The bottom leaves will also very often have some form of disease on them. They’ll be yellow and spotted, with the disease growing up the plant.
The first thing you want to do is to remove the bottom branches. There are many gardeners who pull off any branches below the first flowers. I don’t go that far, but do remove the bottom 6-12 inches of leaves. That yellow spotted disease is from water splattering up from the soil onto the leaves. The disease is in the soil. If you remove those bottom leaves, the splashing will be greatly reduced and can buy you some disease protection.
The next thing you want to prune is the suckers. These are branches that grow out of a junction between the main stem and a branch. These suckers will contribute to the out of control mess at the end of the season. Suckers will also take energy away from the plant that it can use to produce more fruit.
None of this pruning will take much time. I grow 24 tomato plants each summer and it takes under 10 minutes to do pruning. After the first big pruning, it takes even less time. It’s something you can do whenever you’re out in the garden. Pinch a sucker, pick a tomato. It doesn’t get much easier, or much tastier.
Heather Smith can also be found at Heather’s Homemaking. She blogs about gardening, cooking, preserving and other homesteading activities.