Should I prune the tops of my plants?

kingkongos(Phoenix)July 7, 2010

My garden is enclosed in a cage and my tomato plants have gotten to be about 7ft tall and are poking through the ceiling. Being July, production has slowed significantly and the leaves on the bottom 1/3rd of the plant are browning/dying. I'd like to get these plants through the next month of 110 degree heat and give them a chance to produce in the fall. I'm using 50% shade, heavy mulch and a drip...so they're standing up pretty well. Should I prune the tops to encourage them to bush out?..and if so how heavily?

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diclemeg(7a)

kingkong, sounds like you should nip the terminal bud and let them bush out... and i would think not to prune any leaves in that heat unless they browned out....though growing tomatoes in phoenix desert is a totally different animal than for me here in long island, ny.

i digress.... in fact, i have some friends in scottsdale that i gave them some seeds, and they are growing them behind a shade cloth and water every day but they are having no success at all, they say they cant get fruit to set, that the buds fall off. what types are you growing, and do you have any advice for them???? they were told that they can only grow cherry types in the summer, too.

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 11:20AM
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kingkongos(Phoenix)

Diclemeg, I'm growing a few varieties of heirlooms...Aunt Ruby's German Green, Amana Orange, Cherokee Purple, and a red variety that I've yet to identify (saved seed from the farmers market). The key in this climate is to start them very early so that they set fruit before the temperatures rise. I started them at the beginning of January, set them out in March, and they set fruit all the way up to late June. Now, with the heat we've been having...110 degree days and barely dropping below 90 for more than a couple hours at night, little to no fruit will set no matter what you do. Mine have stopped setting fruit now so it's completely normal. I mulch heavily and water VERY deeply but infrequently - about once every 3 days.

If they can get the plants through the next 1.5 months or so, their plants should start to set fruit again when the temperature starts to drop. I've picked about 200lbs of tomatoes so far so it's definitely possible to get a nice crop here in the desert with the right care.

The terminal bud is the end bud on the main stem right? I won't prune green leaves as I need those to provide shade for the developing tomatoes but how/how much do I prune exactly?

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 1:54PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Might I suggest a learning experiment? Prune off the terminal growth tip - say 3-6" of it - on some of them and leave the others alone and watch what happens. ;)

If true to form the pruned plants will now sprout at least 1 and probably 2 suckers from the node just below where you pruned and you will now have 2 stems that will quickly grow even faster and taller than the tip you removed did. Meanwhile the unpruned plants will just grow until they reach the roof and then bend and drape back down over the support and keep on going and growing and setting fruit when the temps allow.

In other words, IME topping indeterminate plants doesn't make them bushier. It only stimulates new top growth. See which works for you in your environment.

Dave

    Bookmark   July 8, 2010 at 4:29PM
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sunsi(z5 NY)

Thank the gods for your advise digdirt my hubby was going to nip off the tops of our tomatoes believing they would bush out. I'll show him your post and hide the garden shears. Thanks!

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 9:36AM
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lostyooper(8)

As a fellow desert dweller I strip the yellow leaves. In fact I try to remove all branches/leaves a foot and 1/2 above the ground. Disease from below. I hacked my big potato leaf plants back pretty good. Bad idea to let them touch the ground. Monsoon is coming and hopefully that will stop the blossom end rot. Usually does.

    Bookmark   July 9, 2010 at 7:42PM
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