How to Train your Tomato
“It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato.”
Garden-fresh tomatoes are truly the best that our gardens have to offer us in the summer. Just being close to your tomato plants will surround you with nostalgia. Pick your harvest when it’s ripe, and you’ll swear you can taste sunshine as you bite in. They’re a juice-running-down-your-chin, Canadian classic and a local favorite for good reason.
Getting Technical: Types of Tomato
Before you even get into the hundreds of varieties and fanciful names of tomatoes, all tomatoes can be divided into two types. On one side, you have determinate tomatoes. These are usually the newer hybrids. They are well-behaved and self-contained – they’ll sit up straight, keep their hands to themselves, and they won’t need much supervision or training. They are the ideal
choice for small containers or gardens, as they tend to be less gangly and unruly as their cousins. These are the easier varieties to grow and will be a nearly foolproof way to get some tasty tomatoes this summer.
Indeterminates are the other option. They’re a bit more unruly, and they live by their own rules. Indeterminates are vine growers, compared to their compact cousins. They might take a bit more management, but the effort is worth it when it comes time for harvest. The world’s most delicious varieties of tomatoes (including the famously misbehaved heirlooms) are indeterminates and need a helping hand to grow.
When it gets down to it, your tomato plant is a sugar factory. They take the energy from the sun they adore so much and use it (along with some reinforcements from the soil) to make its stems, leaves, and fruit. Your tomato plants are already experts at growing and ripening, but if you want the
most fruit from your garden as possible, they’ll need some tough love to keep their fruit production in line.
Unsupervised, your plant will produce a lot of growth that won’t ripen fast enough to yield in our short summer. Pruning is absolutely essential, as is tying them to keep them in line. A well-pruned vine will channel its resources towards ripening its fruits, rather than making stems that will never end up yielding.
Tying Your Tomato
An indeterminate that is left to grow on its own will inevitably end up a tangled, green mess. This is not only frustrating to handle but prone to fungus and rot. Training (and tying) your vine correctly, however, will result in a summer full of delicious rewards. You’ll even have fruit ripening a full 2-3 weeks before untrained plants!
Your tomato supports can be as complicated as an elegant trellis, or as simple as a stick. Keep in mind while tying that the stems of your plant are very fragile, and the growing fruits become very heavy as they ripen! Avoid handling too roughly or using wire or thin twine to tie your plant. These will bite into or even completely sever your plant’s stem. Instead, use thick twine, plastic plant tape, or even strips of pantyhose tied every 6-8” just loose enough to support, without letting the plant hang too much. As flower clusters start to show, tie just above the clusters (rather than below) to avoid having the weight of the growing fruit pull the stem over.
We prune our tomato plants for 3 reasons: we want to keep them healthy, to maximize our harvest by the end of the year, and to help divert resources where they are needed most to grow good fruits.
- Prune for health: This involves punching all the side stems that grow under the first flower cluster. It might seem extreme, but the improved air circulation will help your plant to fight fungal diseases that could attack at soil level.
- Prune for bigger harvests: As you approach the end of the growing season in the fall, you’ll need to guide your plant to divert its resources towards ripening the fruit it has started, instead of working on maturing fruits that won’t make it before the frost. Our first frost tends to be sometime in mid-September, so this process should start about a month prior. Start by “topping” – pinching off above existing fruit clusters. For bigger tomato varieties, you will also want to pinch off the smallest half of the developing clusters so that the remaining ones get all the sugars they need.
- Prune to divert resources: Helping your plant focus on growing fruits as fall approaches is vital, but the same concept applies all year. Pinch off all the growth that doesn’t contribute to the growing tomatoes. Suckers are the first to go. You’ll find them growing at an angle out of the joint between the leaf stem and main stem. Pruning the lower branches for air circulation will have the added bonus of helping your plant be efficient with its resources, too.
All tomato plants are a little delicate and very prone to disease. To keep your plants safe and working hard to make your harvest, pinch with the fingers rather than using pruners. While a clean cut is nice, the old steel on your tools might hold any number of pathogens that will enter through a fresh cut on the stem.
For similar reasons, never work with your tomatoes (tying or pruning them) if they are still wet from rain or watering. The open wounds that often result from moving the vines around will be extra vulnerable to fungus transmitted from water.
Indeterminates are a challenge, but they’re perfect for the gardener that wants to put in a bit of extra effort for a lot of reward. These are among the most delicious tomatoes our Garden Centre has to offer, and we love the nostalgia that comes with taming a classic variety. We love helping you keep your garden healthy and bountiful. Come by today and talk to us about how to produce a flavourful and rewarding crop.