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Is it too late to prune vines?

Posted by sdgator Austin, TX (My Page) on
Mon, Jul 5, 10 at 21:12

This is my first year really growing tomatoes, and I've made some mistakes, that hopefully y'all can help me mitigate somewhat.

I've got 12 indeterminate tomatoes planted in a grid pattern, about 3 feet apart (mistake #1?), up against a fence. The previous owner left a huge 10x20 raised garden box that I'm taking advantage of. The original plan was to prune them to single or dual stalks, but I wasn't able to bring myself to do that (mistake #2), and now they are way overgrown into each other and the rows in between. Here's the layout:

x x x x

x x x x

x x x x

Where "--" is Fence and "x" is a tomato plant.

They're all around 8 or 9 feet tall, and seem to be very happy. The only issue is, only the row of 4 the farthest away from the fence are producing tomatoes. They are producing a lot of great tomatoes, so that's good. The other 8 plants between the outer row and the fence aren't producing at all, even though some of non-producers are the same species as the producing plants.

I'm guessing there's not enough sunlight getting to them? If that is the case, is it too late to prune them back significantly so they can get more sunlight? What's the right way to prune them back, if that's the right thing to do? Actually, what IS the right thing to do here to salvage this year's non-producing plants?

Follow-Up Postings:

RE: Is it too late to prune vines?

Impossible to advise from info given. Could you show compass directions on your sketch, and describe any sunlight blockages that impact your garden?

RE: Is it too late to prune vines?

Opps, sorry. The fence is on the south side of the garden. It is a six-foot fence, and there are no other sun blockages. The row closest to the fence is around 3 feet from the fence, so it gets a lot of shade.

What I've been told for out here in Texas is that the summer sun is actually too much, and tomatoes do better if they have some shade to cool them off, as long as they still get 8 hours of sun. But maybe they've got too much shade?

RE: Is it too late to prune vines?

It's unfortunate the fence is on the South side. The plants closest to the fence probably aren't getting enough sun. If your fence was on the North side of the garden you would not have sun problems. You won't get too many new fruit to set in July, August and most of September, unless you have cherry tomatoes or small-fruited varities.
If your plants don't become too diseased or stressed you could prune them and get tomatoes this Fall. Some people root suckers for new plants or buy plants for transplanting in the second half of July. I start new plants inside from seed in June for Fall. I'll pull most of my Spring plants in a week or so. I don't care to compete with the heat, drought, disease, and insects of the middle of summer. The transplants are small so they don't need as much water and can be protected from the sun and insects with cardboard blocks or fabric. New plants are vigorous and healthy and will be huge by late September when it cools off and fruit begin to set. If you go with new Fall plants, put in early-season types like Stupice, Bloody Butcher, and Early Girl, so they have time to ripen before frost.
For the best crop next Spring, try to get an early start. In Austin, transplant the first or second week of March. You may have to protect the plants a night or two, but it will be well worth it.
As far as amount of sun, tomatoes need at least 6 hours of full sun a day and prefer 8 or more. In Texas, many people do like to shade plants from the hot afternoon summer sun using a shade block of some type, but I recommend giving them as much sun as possible during March, April and May and in September, October, and November in order to take advantage of the prime growing conditions. In the deep South, we have two short seasons, instead of one long season.
Take advantage of the search feature in this forum for info on rooting suckers, transplanting, starting seeds, etc.

Good luck,


RE: Is it too late to prune vines?

Live and learn, about the fence, I guess. I'll probably try to leave the existing plants alone and trim them back early September to salvage what I can.

I totally hadn't though about replanting for the fall. I'll have to see if the local nursery is carrying any tomato seedlings this time of year. I'll try to start some seedlings or transplants in a different bed altogether.

Thanks for the help Pete!!

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