Growing only one stem

diclemeg(7a)September 29, 2009

I am growing tomatoes for first time, and on a 7 foot hightrellis. Next season, I would like to grow the plants 12in apart, and prune them to one stem only, and pinch them at 6 feet or so. Several of my plants that thrived this year reached the top height very quickly in mid-summer.

I don't know enough about tomato plants, maybe someone can explain. Ideally, when they reach 6 feet or so by mid-summer, I'd like to pinch them off, and to one stem, and then harvest the fruits that develop. But I don't know... will the plants re-grow flower clusters along this stem that I am keeping pinched to 6 feet?

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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)
  • "will the plants re-grow flower clusters along this stem that I am keeping pinched to 6 feet?"

Most indeterminate tomato stems produce a cluster of flowers after every third leaf set. This continues in greenhouses on 30' vines and one stem can be prolific, but that individual stem cannot produce new fruit where it has already produced, so it must be allowed to grow to continue fruiting.

Should you pinch the top to 6' yet allow other stems to develop from suckers, the new stems will produced new blooms thus more fruit low on the plant.

Maybe you should seek plants without the tall growth habit. It seems plenty of varieties top off around 6 to 7 feet.

Or you could fashion a cage in front of the trellis and let nature take it's course with multiple stems topping them when they reach your preferred height. The 12" spacing is too tight for that method, though I suspect with wider spacing this would bring you the best overall result.

You could go with the 12 inches and train each single stem plant to start back down at 6'. Just a friendly word of caution though. Heavy pruning as advised by many sources is probably not such great advice.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 1:23PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

Next season, I would like to grow the plants 12in apart, and prune them to one stem only, and pinch them at 6 feet or so.

It would be a very unusual method for growing them and with markedly reduced production of fruit. May I ask why you feel this would be the best approach for you? Especially since in zone 7 we have such a long growing season.

Dave

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 2:44PM
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diclemeg(7a)

well, i have gotten very few tomatoes, and most plants grew to six feet, but had no tomatoes.. this could have been due to the tons of rain we got, for the fruit would never set. i thought that maybe it was because i had three or four stems to each plant, with no fruit, and that instead of i go with say one stem or at most two, but topped off, then i'd have more fruit set. this was my first year growing. out of 26 heirlooms and 5 hybrids, half the heirlooms haven't set fruit yet, another half set fruit but it either rotted or were small and unedible. the hybrids like the sungold and purple haze did quite well...... dave, all i want is alot of tomatoes, and since i didn't get any, it seemed as if i'm only growing leaves and not tomatoes. please tell me what to do then, because it didn't work for me.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 2:49PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)
  • "i thought that maybe it was because i had three or four stems to each plant, with no fruit, and that instead of i go with say one stem or at most two, but topped off, then i'd have more fruit set."

Unfortunately it doesn't work that way. Pruning growing tips and suckers is removing parts of the plant that have the capability of producing fruit while nurturing parts that no longer have the capability. In general, you reduce yield by pruning. There's several threads here discussing this.

Why did you just have three or four stems per plant? Were you removing suckers? Are the plants in full sun? Are they mulched? Did you fertilize? If so, with what, how much and how often?

In much of the country this was a tough year. If the goal is a maximum yield of tomatoes by weight, I think your best bet is to plant good sized transplants early in the season, fertilize lightly and regularly, mulch heavily, water consistently, surround them with big cages and don't prune anything but the diseased, drying, older growth.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 6:02PM
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mister_gin(z9 AZ)

I'm contemplating trying this out next spring. I don't have the space for growing the variety of veggies and tomatoes I want to grow. I'd rather have variety over quantity so I don't mind limiting what one plant can produce. Pruning isn't all that time consuming when you have a small gardening space. I just need to determine if I want to stake or string them.

Wade

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 6:35PM
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digdirt2(6b-7a No.Cent. AR HZ8 Sun-35)

This well, i have gotten very few tomatoes, and most plants grew to six feet, but had no tomatoes.. this could have been due to the tons of rain we got, for the fruit would never set. is what jumps out at me and as Bob indicated that says feeding problems - most likely excess nitrogen.

Excess nitrogen is a classic cause of big plants with few fruit. So as Bob asked what did you feed with and how much? What went into soil prep?

Other contributing factors to that situation are over crowding and insufficient sun exposure. And of course weather also plays a role.

But I'd sure be taking a closer looking at the fertilizer issues before adopting a drastically different planting/growing scheme.

JMO

Dave

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 6:51PM
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maternut(7 west tn)

Wow the tomato control officer, may arrest you for abusing the tomato plants.

    Bookmark   September 29, 2009 at 11:59PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

Wade, for me the string method (with 8' tall posts) worked much better for pruning tall vining plants. Stakes may or may not work better for shorter more contained plants. Your reason for heavy pruning, more varieties in limited space, makes sense. Diclemeg's desire for more fruit doesn't, in my experience. I'll likely prune a dozen or so (to three or four stems) tied to my string trellis set up every year to get more varieties going too. But if you're going to one or two stems in AZ be prepared to fashion fake leaves to protect your "bare" tomatoes from sunscald. I used a few dozen burlap squares tied above and draped over clusters and still had annoying losses to sunscald where I pruned the heaviest. Wind would blow my fake leaves out of position then the sun would cook the top of the maters. Out here that can happen in one day. The heavily pruned were also some of my weakest plants and the first to taken out. Lots of foliage helps the plant transpire better in high heat. Little foliage can help the sun cook a plant.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 10:29AM
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diclemeg(7a)

I used a fertilizer 3-4-4 and ALSO used worm castings.... maybe this caused too much nitrogen. I get enough sun I think, maybe 7 hours direct.

Next year, I will try to use a fertilizer with far less nitrogen.

So, say I want to prune to four stems, like I understand from above is ok... I presume the plants should be 2ft apart then. If I go with four stems, do the extra three all need to be suckers from the original stem, or can/should they be suckers from another sucker ? e.g..... one main stem, sucker A, and sucker A.1 and sucker A.1.1 thanks

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 10:49AM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

As far as I know there isn't a consensus spacing or pruning method, and I have looked quite a bit in addition to experimenting with my own plants. I have plants pruned to four stems spaced @ 24" this year and they've done fine, considerably better than two stem plants.

After the main stem produces it's first cluster of flowers you will see a sucker growing from the node at the leaf branch just below that flower cluster. That sucker is a good candidate for keeping on a four stem plant. Your plant will develop a 'V' shape with those two stems. For four, keep the suckers beneath the first set of flowers on the new stem and the second set on the mainstem. That's four. Prune all new suckers from there. I found it easier to manage if I dropped a string to each stem. You could do the same thing keeping the suckers just above the flower clusters instead of just below. You can find expert advice for both methods. Probably doesn't matter much either way.

    Bookmark   September 30, 2009 at 9:26PM
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diclemeg(7a)

bob, thanks... this question completely digresses, but do you think that it'd be better to plant 24" inches, but remove that first sucker below the first flower cluster, and actually plant it in between the plants, so you have two stem plants at 12 inch spacing... and then have each plant grow to two stems ? or is it better to have four stems per plant at 24 inch spacing ?

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 12:23PM
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mojavebob(9/Sunset 11)

I've seen greenhouse growers space one stem at 12 inches with double rows so there's four plants rooted in the corners of a 12x12 square section but a lot of what they do is voodoo to me. Also I think there was 18" between each 12x12. Like I said, voodoo. Those vines go over 20 feet and are leaned over for harvesting. Those plants (expensive commercial greenhouse hybrids) are specifically bred for those techniques.

My guess is keeping 4 stems on the plants spaced at 2' will be better for the shallow spreading roots. At 12 inches they could interfere with each other... guessing. A poster here, who posts rarely, named Dcarch, plants (successfully) intensively and might have some input if he stops by this thread. I know you wanted to keep it to 6' high though and that probably won't produce much with 2 stem plants.

I still prefer caged natural growth for best yields. I'm only pruning in the future to cram in a few extra varieties, and because I built this string trellis deal, so I'll use it knowing the tomatoes will not produce as well as they could, but possibly a little earlier (another possible benefit to pruning).

Good luck however you approach it. If I came off like the "tomato control officer" earlier in the thread (which I think was just someone misunderstanding), I apologize. Sometimes giving advice is uncomfortable and straightforward, thus sounds a little curt. It was only meant to be hopefully helpful. I do seem drawn to this topic when it rears up, but I don't have the answers or even believe they exist. Too many variables.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 8:20PM
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diclemeg(7a)

mohavebob and everyone else... thank you for your input, and bob, no worries, i didn't take it as anything.. in fact, i think the poster who implied tomato control was trying to be funny, at least thats how i took it.

my question was in fact a little odd, but if you were a beginner and saw this 20 foot wall mass of green leaves on a good 7 foot trellis, yet only have a few tomatoes, then my question would be understandable. my flower clusters would keep shriveling up and dying, no matter what i did. but its been said b/c of all the june and july rain here.

    Bookmark   October 1, 2009 at 8:31PM
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