cutting back tomatoes or not

helenh(z6 SW MO)July 23, 2012

I am still watering tomatoes that have green fruit worth the water. What do you think about cutting back the other plants that I am not watering. Do you think it would help them survive or not be worth the effort. The plants of which I speak bloomed after it got hot and have not produced anything thus far. I am getting all my tomatoes from a few plants but those were loaded. It seems like this happened last year too. Maybe I should plant fewer and take better care of them.

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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Helen, I think it just depends on the plant and how resilient it is. When I started yanking out the tomato plants I had no intention of watering any more, I left a few. I cut some of them back by about 60% and they have rewarded me with new green growth. In an average year, the ones I cut back will hang on thru the insane July and August heat and will put out some new growth in July and August, though how much depends on how hot it is. Whenever it begins to cool down to temperatures more to their liking, they normally flower and fruit. After that, it is all about the weather. An early cool-down can slow down fruit and keep it from ripening before the first freeze. Sometimes, though, the fall is long, mild and perfect for tomatoes. I believe it was in 2004 that our first freeze wasn't until mid-December, and I was still picking tomatoes right up until the day before the freeze. Our first year here the first freeze was September 29th and I was not happy about that. In an average year here in southcentral OK our first freeze usually occurs around Thanksgiving.

Most years, the ones I cut back produce very well in fall. I am not sure if that will happen this year because of all the blister beetles and grasshoppers, as well as the intense heat. I figured since I already had them, I'd save a few, cut them back and see what I get. If they don't grow well, I can always turn off the hose at any time and let them die.

Your mileage may vary.....but I think it is always worth it to give them a chance by cutting them back, watering them, and giving them a feeding if they need it. If, after a couple of weeks, they aren't looking good, then you can decide if it is worth it to you to continue keeping them alive.

I had planned to sow seeds of tomato plants for fall, but with the drought and heat I decided not to. I still might start some seeds just any day now for a few tomato plants to put in the greenhouse. Right now I'm not feeling real enthusiastic about it, but I know if I don't start some fall/winter tomatoes for the greenhouse, I'll be sorry I didn't.

Both this year and last year, I think it mainly is the heat impeding good fruit set. There's too much heat too early the last two years and the tomato plants sure don't like it.

I got fantastic production from plants put into the ground in March because they had time to set tons of fruit before it got hot. The plants that went into the ground in April did really well. The ones that went into the ground in May set well for a while, but their productive period was not as long as those planted two months earlier. I did spread out the harvest by spreading out the planting over a longer time but, as always, the first plants that went into the main garden in March have been most productive because they were able to beat the heat.

Most years, it is still freezing in March and I cannot plant that early. It seems like it is harder and harder to plant late enough to avoid late freezes and yet still get good fruit set before it gets insanely hot. If the weather would just settle down and play fair, we'd be enjoying our gardens a lot more.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 5:27PM
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I was thinking about my plants and which ones did Dawn, my best plants were the ones that I put in the ground in late March/early April.

Given that, the plants I received from the plant swap did produce, but they really didn't impress like the others did.
Many of the plant swap plants were on the verge of outgrowing their cups/containers, so you would have (maybe) thought that they had a jump on the early ones since they were a bit larger.

I hate to wonder about having the swap earlier because the weather seems to cooperate for the most part - I guess maybe I should look at the swap plants as "filler", for the spots I have left?? What do you guys think?

Maybe we've just had a few anomalous years where we needed to get the plants in earlier...and next year we'll bemoan a late frost! Who knows?!?


    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 10:32PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I think to get the best production, it always is going to be the plants that go into the ground earliest (assuming they escape late frosts) that produce the best.

Swap tomato plants are a little late since the swap is at the end of April, and I have always considered them as filler or maybe as back-ups for earlier plants that met with disaster. The recommended planting dates for tomato plants in OK end April 10 and the swap usually is 3 weeks after that. Thus, I think a slightly earlier swap might be better in terms of tomato plants, but don't know how anyone else would feel about that. The problem with choosing earlier dates is we start running into conflicts with Easter--not that we can't work around that.

For as long as I've been gardening, whether here or in Texas, (and I hate to think about how many years, nay...decades, this involves), it is always that the earlier the plants go into the ground (as long as they do not go in so early they freeze or cold soil temps stunt them), the better they set fruit. I do think it gets harder every year as it seems to get hotter earlier every year. It used to be that we really didn't see the kinds of temperatures that impede pollination until near the end of June. Now we see them in May or sometimes even in late April. It is crazy. This year wasn't really too bad and many of us had huge crops, but that was mostly because we planted early and/or the weather cooperated for at least a while. I never expect much from tomato plants in July and, in terms of August, sometimes they already begin flowering and fruiting in August if cutback in July but other years they don't start flowering and fruiting until September.

When I lived in Fort Worth we tried to get our tomatoes in the ground in early March in order to beat the heat, or sometimes in a warm winter, the last week of February. Sometimes that meant doing the same things we do here....planting in containers we could carry inside or using blankets to cover up plants on cold nights or starting out with WOWs to protect the plants. I found WOWs to be almost self-defeating though. I had a neighbor who always planted in February with WOWs and his plants grew so fast they outgrew the WOWs while nights were still occasionally freezing and the top part of the plant that stuck up out of the WOW would freeze. Seems like in this part of the country, sometimes the tomato plants just cannot win.


    Bookmark   July 23, 2012 at 11:10PM
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helenh(z6 SW MO)

Thanks for your answers. I just started getting big tomatoes about three weeks ago so my season shouldn't be over. I don't have enough water to keep watering unproductive plants. WOW have saved me the last two years but I am far north of you. If the tops get frosted, the bottom has roots established and the plant will bounce back. I don't think I had a frost after I put mine out but there were threats of frost. I probably had a dozen plants under WOW not as many as you grow. There is no way I could handle as many plants as you have.

    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 12:03PM
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In all my years of gardening I never cut my tomatoes back. Imagine that.

Now, cause of Dawn's post above, I did. The plants had gotten way out of hand... and taken over to much ground. I cut all of them back, and the ones that still have maters on them, I left the most green to keep them from getting sun scalded.

Thanks Dawn, for the encouragement.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 3:20PM
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I've been impressed with Early Girl this year - I'd not grown it before - I think I erroneously thought "early and then done". I'm going to try to trim that one back a bit, although the bottom of the plant is crispy-fried and there's fairly good growth on top - have to see.
My heirlooms are all done, done, done. I might be able to trim back my Jellybean - it might come back if the spider mites don't finish it off.
SO dry.... :~(


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 5:25PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Helen, If I lived as far north as you, I'd undoubtedly use WOWs to get an early start. It is hard for me to use them here because my ground slopes so much that when you start filling them up, they fall over and roll downhill.

Moni, You're welcome. Usually plants that have good vigor respond beautifully to being cut back.

Sharon, You know I've always joked and called Early Girl "Late Girl" here because 9 years out of 10 it is not early for me. This is the year that it was early. I'd bet Early Girl produced at least 70 ripe tomatoes between late April and early June, and still has fruit on it as I type this. Many summers, Early Girl is still flowering and still setting fruit for me in August, which is not really typical around here with our high summer temps. I've even seen it look like it is dying, and I've cut off ALL the foliage at the ground and then have had it regrow almost immediately and produce until the first freeze. This year I planted a fairly new variety called Early Doll. I put one in the ground in the garden in late March and didn't get ripe fruit from it until late May, but it still is producing even now. The Early Doll I put in a container was even later (think it as one of the last plants I planted anywhere), but produced huge loads of fruit for all of July. It has slowed down and the foliage is looking bad on top, but it already is putting out tons of new growth at the base of the plant, so today I cut off about 80% of the upper growth and we'll see how it does for fall.

Even though Early Girl normally isn't early for me, it produces in mid- through late-summer when others slow down, and now it looks like Early Doll, whose fruit have been almost identical to EG's, is performing in an almost-identical manner. Next year I'll plant them side by side so it will be easier to compare them to one another.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 6:20PM
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I'm going to join the "whacking" group. Krim & Carbon have produced well, but they were HUGE tomatoes and broke many limbs so they're getting a severe cut-back, as will the Vignina Sweet & Sungold cherries. They've got beyond the tops of my 6' cages. Beefmaster is out of hand too.

4th of July beat Early Girl by 2 months for me this year. I don't think they understand the calendar. ha! And Chandra's PKM & SDH don't even act like they know it's 100 degrees everyday! They're beside the Indigo and those are the healthiest tomatoe plants in the garden! Chandra - can I save the seeds to these or are they hybrids? Anyone know?

I'm waiting until around 7 this evening to start cutting. It's just too d@#! HOT.


    Bookmark   July 24, 2012 at 6:38PM
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My Black Cherry is showing new growth (about 6") at the base of the stem. Can a plant be cut back that much and respond, or is that too much. It is about to die from the SM damage. If I can cut it back, I'm thinking I may be able to keep the SM's under better control as it grows back.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 1:43PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7

Susan, It is hard to say. In this kind of heat if you remove all the growth directly above that 6" of new growth, you're exposing the new,tender growth to full sun without the shading previously provided by the upper foliage. That's why I always leave some foliage above new growth. Also, there's no guarantee the SMs won't migrate straight to that new foliage and start on it. It's your choice, but I generally take the less risky route and remove some of the old tired growth but not all.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 2:08PM
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I plan to join the "haircut" tomato group this week, too. Our tomatoes have been out of control and jungle like since the Memorial Day hail/wind storm blew all the cages over. I've been crawling through the tomato tunnels (formerly known as my 2.5 foot wide paths I thought I'd ingeniously planned for!) to harvest for weeks now. Foliage is crispy in this heat, so a cutback is in order.

For the crispies that have greenies, do you wait for ripening to harvest those before cutting back? Or harvest green?

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 6:25PM
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Mia, I left a lot of foilage/growth above the maters with green fruit, to shade it from the sun.

I am waiting for them to ripen.

But, meanwhile, I whacked a bunch off, and managed to cut two nice green tomatoes off too.

I just went ahead and added them to the bunch I canned today.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 9:08PM
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Okiedawn OK Zone 7


I usually pull off the greenies and use them one way or another. If you waiting for this one and that one to ripen before you whack back the plants, you'll never get them cut back because there always will be one more green one that you're waiting on.

If you don't like fried green tomatoes and don't want to can anything that includes green tomatoes, you can offer them to friends, family, co-workers, etc. Lots of people like fried green tomatoes and others use them to make a green relish called chow chow.


    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 10:20PM
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I cut my burpee patio tomatoe over a week ago and the new growth has astounded me. It's in a large pot at the edge of my south facing front deck. I almost can't see the nubs of the branches I cut. Wow.

I'm hopeful the "haircut" I give the others works as well.

    Bookmark   July 25, 2012 at 11:07PM
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