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Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Posted by kristimama SF East Bay Zn 9 (My Page) on
Mon, Jan 23, 12 at 15:25

I don't know if I'm using the right term, pinch off or top off, or basically cut the tops of your indeterminates? Does topping them encourage them to produce more lower on the plant?

My tomatoes always grow well beyond the 6' cages they are in (and I mean 6' of above ground growth).

They are in 2' tall raised beds, which means the combined height is 8' high, and I'm always up in a ladder harvesting at some point. Yummmmmm yummm tomatoes. :-)

Here in the Bay Area (east bay) our tomato season can keep going until October and once into November for me. But at that point, the plants keep kicking out new growth and new flowers on the very top and I am wondering if topping them earlier in the season keeps them to a desired height while flowering and setting fruit lower on the plant?

Thanks,
Kmama


Follow-Up Postings:

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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Normally? No. All that does is decrease production. Indeterminates are vines so new growth and production comes from the primary and secondary branches. Top the primary and all you get is 2 new branches sprouting from the node below. The old woody growth low on the plant doesn't sprout new growth productive growth.

6' is actually short for most indeterminates. Many can average 10-12' given good growing conditions and they just normally drape back down over the cage or support. But if short plants is what you prefer then determinate varieties are made for that type of growth.

If you search 'topping plants' here you'll find several discussions about this.

Dave


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Thanks, Dave. Actually, yes, you are right, many of them exceed the 6 feet cages. They go up, and over, and crawl back down, then shade out the plant underneath, then over the top of the bed, and they take over. :-)

I was just curious if pinching them made the stuff below produce more. But I guess not.

Funny, I did a search on topping plants but nothing clear came up. Maybe something wrong with my search. I'll try again, though I suspect your answer is right... it'll just split into two and keep growing up. LOL


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

I do top my plants with a hedge trimmer, when they exceed the tops of my 76 inch cages:

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This seems to encourage them to fill out more fully within the cages, rather than the stems draping down the outsides of the cage. Personal choice, but this would be my recommendation.

BTW, still picking tomatoes today over here in Campbell:

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Raybo


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Whaaaaat? Raybo, seriously. Tomatoes, still? Even after our crazy frost last week? Wow!


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Kmama,

Yep, last year I picked my final Indian Stripe on Feb 3. We did get hit with the frost last week and the foliage looks terrible - but the tomatoes keep ripening. I am growing in containers, backed up against a South facing wall - so the plants get plenty of sunshine and protection in this location.

It looks like with our 40's most nights for the next 10 days - I will break last year's date. But I've got to begin ripping out the plants as I need to prep the EartthTainers for my Spring plant-out commencing in mid March.

Some more "eye-candy" from last week:

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I am also growing tomatoes indoors to carry me through the rest of the Winter:

Photobucket

Raybo


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

So. Not. Fair. LOL Those are gorgeous, Raybo.

Question for you... both of these sets of photos you provided, show tomatoes set fairly close to the soil level. Were those started later in the summer (i.e. younger plants) or did they somehow start setting fruit again lower on the plant, or did pruning the top growth stimulate new stems coming out of the ground? Does that question make sense. I always thought (and earlier posts on this thread) implied that they will only put fruit on the new top growth.

Thanks for clarifying.

-kmama


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

kmama,

Yes, these plants were my second planting of the Season, being put in late August. We get a very long Season here in San Jose.

Raybo


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Thanks, that makes sense. Wow, you do get a long season. I'm jealous. -k


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

What variety are those slices, Raybo?

Love the Hawaiian quilt also.


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Those were a cross between Marianna's Peace and Neves Azorean Red by "Danish Gardener" called MarNar. These were plants from my F2 seed.

Here is a "fun" photo. Planted Rosella Purple and Iditarod Red from the Dwarf Project out yesterday:

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I hadn't noticed it when I took the photo, but it captured my 2011 tomatoes growing in the background, as well as the new 2012 plantings.

Raybo


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

I want to refresh this thread, which I just found, with another perspective. It sounds like the OP wanted to top her tomatoes because they were getting too high. But there is another reason. Here in central Texas, we put our plants in in late Feb or early March. We're swimming in tomatoes by May and June.

And then it gets HOT. Really HOT. Several weeks over 100F.

So when we have vines that are 8 feet away from the roots, it puts a huge strain on the plants pumping water that far. You can water like crazy, but the plant will start to die, from the ends inward.

The incentive then might be to prune or "top" the vines to encourage lower growth. I've never dared do that, but it might permit me to keep my tomatoes alive into the fall, which around here means late November, for a second crop. See, the summer heat keeps the flowers from setting fruit, so if you can keep them alive until fall, you should get a second crop.

Now, my plants have always offered suckers down low, so it makes sense that if I top them, the suckers will fill out the bush. True? Not true?


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

One of my best years, I had plants that reaches almost 13 ft. long. (Long not tall.) I caged my tomatoes & they grow through the chicken wire & down the other side. The weight of the tomatoes on the outside of the cages started to crushing the cage. I harvested 40 pounds of green tomatoes before the frost that year.

Don't you think it would be easier to plant determines or semi-determines? No topping them. For me, I prefer indeterminates & I'll figure out how to support them until they die.


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

I think it is an interesting question. My theory on what would happen is that you would get a lag in fruit production while new side stems grew, and then smaller fruit, though perhaps more of them. Here's a link to an article that explains the theory behind pruning to a single stem, which I think gives insight into what would happen if you pruned the top of that stem. Cheers!

Here is a link that might be useful: Pruning tomatoes


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Thanks for the link. That's interesting, but it doesn't really address the question at hand. For cherries, there is absolutely no need to prune for quality, at least where I live. It's about survival. Why should I encourage a 6-8 foot vine to keep pushing longer if I can get suckers to produce far closer to the roots? The issue isn't how to hold them up physically, it's how to keep them healthy in 100F+ temperatures. A 13-foot vine? Forget it. You think you're going to pump water up a vine of that length and fill out tomatoes in that heat?

The question is whether the productivity of the plant can be maintained if they are topped, such that the suckers down low take over the fruiting from the main stem.


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Why should I encourage a 6-8 foot vine to keep pushing longer if I can get suckers to produce far closer to the roots?

That's the point. They don't. As I posted in my first post above. Indeterminates are vines. They grow just like all vines do. New growth and production comes from distal end of the primary and secondary branches. Top the primary and you get 2 new branches sprouting from the node just below the cut. The old woody growth low on the plant doesn't sprout new productive growth.

If you leave the lower secondary stems (what many call suckers) as the plant grows rather than removing them then yes, they will produce fruit and if you cut the plant back sharply - down to 1-2 feet - you may get a new secondary stem to sprout from the root ball but not from the stem.

Look into the anatomy of a tomato plant. Research how it (an indeterminate) grows, how the cellular structure of the stem changes - becomes woody - as the plant matures.

The question is whether the productivity of the plant can be maintained if they are topped, such that the suckers down low take over the fruiting from the main stem.

The simple answer is no as explained above. But there are many variables so the best way to learn is to experiment with a plant or two. Set up a control plant that isn't topped for comparison and keep track of new growth if any develops, where on the plant it is, and whether it is productive or not. Nothing teaches what happens with a plant than growing lots of them and watching what happens to them in your own backyard.

The best alternative to tiding exhausted plants over is simply to take cuttings from the plants and make clones, plant them for a later crop.

Dave


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

That hasn't been quite my experience with Sweet-100s. I do get new growth lower down, but yes, not when those stems have gotten woody, which they do once the vines are very long and the weather is very hot. Perhaps it isn't correct to call the new growth suckers.

But it sounds like what you're saying is that if you prune the vine early, you can get two subsidiary vines where that single vine was lopped off. That would have the desired effect, which is to put more growth closer to the ground. In principle, wouldn't you want to top them very early to encourage vine doubling in that way?

Yes, taking cuttings in early season is a good idea, but I've never had much success in doing that. I put them in distilled water, and wait and wait for roots to form. They usually don't. The correct protocol is probably described best in a different thread, but pointers would be appreciated.

Now, planting new plants for a later crop when the temps are around 100F is not the easiest thing to do.

Again, what I have is wildly prolific tomatoes in early summer, but by the time the weather is cool enough to possibly set fruit again, the plants are seriously damaged by the heat.


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

if you prune the vine early, you can get two subsidiary vines where that single vine was lopped off. That would have the desired effect, which is to put more growth closer to the ground.

If that is your goal then it is true to a degree. But is "more growth closer to the ground" really the goal when growing tomatoes? Rather than say plant health, production, fruit quality, fruit size, etc.?

And you also have to balance the effect on the plant of doing that. You now have secondary stems rather than primary. Smaller in size, potentially weaker, reduced circulatory systems in both means less nutrient and water transport, etc. And how many times could you do it without severely affecting the plant? Would the reduced circulation be exponential? 1 into 2, 2 into 4, 4 into 8, 16, 32, etc. It is a trade-off that just isn't worth IMO. But to each his own because what works for one may not work for another.

but I've never had much success in doing that. I put them in distilled water, and wait and wait for roots to form. They usually don't.

Yep lots of discussions on 'rooting cuttings' or 'clones' here and many with pictures included. I do some 30-50 of them each July for planting out in August to replace exhausted plants. Basically it boils down to 3-5" growth tip cuttings (not leaves, no leaf branches, etc. only suckers or growing tips), strip off any leaves except the cluster on the tip, insert the stem 2-3" deep in a small pot of moist potting soil (never water), and set it out of the sun. It will droop for about 2 days then begin to perk up. Keep it well moistened and within 8-10 days it will be rooted in place. Transplant tot he garden at the proper time.

That hasn't been quite my experience with Sweet-100s.

Can't really compare the growth patterns of the manic cherry varieties to standard tomato plants. Very different animals. They grow in such an explosive, unrestrained manner that many question if they are really tomato plants and suspect that Sweet 100, Sweet Million, and similar monsters are secretly conspiring to take over the world.

Dave


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Yes, the goal is to put growth lower to the ground which, as I said, is the strategy that may ensure survival of the plants. That counts as "plant health", I think.

But that's important about secondary stems perhaps having lower capacity than primary. That is, using secondary stems closer to the ground may not be a lot better than primary stems farther from the ground.

Good hints about cuttings. More specific than some of the many discussions I've seen. Growth tips, rather than leaves and branches, eh? I'll give it a try.

Yep, manic cherries are beasts unto themselves. But the astounding productivity in early summer is addictive, which is why I'm sort of desperate to find strategies to keep them going!


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RE: Do you top off your indeterminates at some point

Hi Kristimama...I also live in the East Bay (Oakley). I try all kinds of things with tomatoes (usually because I don't know any better). Last year I grew Better Boys on a trellis.
When they over grew the top, I let them keep growing and tied them is a gradual curve heading downward. This seemed to work very well.I kept pruning the suckers,and treated them as as vine.
I had tomatoes well into the fall.
Any hints on how to keep them from splitting during the last part of the season?


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