"To prune, or not to prune: that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler in the garden to suffer the bulk and bounty of overgrown tomato plants or to take up cutters against the sea of green, and by pruning, end them?"
Okay, enough misquoting of the great Bard. but the question is still valid and I hear it every year as the summer roles on. "Joe, help! My tomatoes are growing out of control, what should I do!!???"
My knee-jerk reaction is to say, "shut up and enjoy all of the wonderful tomatoes you will be getting."
But I understand the real issue, these gardeners are actually asking me whether or not they can/should cut back their hardy tomato plants.
“Should I prune my tomato plants?” This question is rapidly followed by, “How do I prune tomatoes?” Let’s look at these two questions and then a way to put those pruned bits to good use.
- Do not start pruning tomato plants until they get at least 1 – 2 feet tall. Any smaller than this, and the plant may not recover from the shock of being pruned.
- At this size, the plant will have branches coming off the main stem that you decide must to go. Where these branches meet, you will see and additional branch growing. This is called a tomato sucker.
- Using a sharp, clean pair of pruning shears, snip these small sucker branches off.
- The best time to prune tomato plants is in the early morning on a dry day. This will allow for the wounds from the pruning to heal cleanly and will reduce the chances of the plant being infected by disease.
- If you choose to prune tomato plants, make sure that you use watering methods that water the tomato plants at the soil level (like soaker hoses) rather than from above (like sprinklers). This will prevent the splashing of soil up onto the tomato plant and the tomato plants wounds.
But if you do prune your tomatoes what should you do with the bits you cut off? One answer is to cut them into small bits and add them to your compost pile, but you could root them. Many of us have started new houseplants from cuttings but did you know that many vegetables can be started in this manner too? Tomato propagation by cuttings is a perfect example and very easy to do, cuttings can be rooted in water or directly in the soil.
Why would you want to root cuttings of tomato plants you are cutting back? Well, first off you may want to give some away as gifts or you may trade some of your cuttings with another gardener for new varieties that they have that you want to try growing. Heck, if you admire a neighbor’s lush tomato plant, starting tomato plants from cuttings is an excellent way to clone their plant and, hopefully, get the same vigorous result in your garden; just be polite and ask first before you snip from their prized plant!
Tomato cuttings are amazingly fast and easy root growers. To begin, look for some of the sucker shoots on the chosen tomato plant that don’t have buds on them. With sharp pruners, cut about 6-8 inches of the sucker or new growth at the tip of the branch. Then, you can simply immerse the tomato cutting in water or plant it directly into some soil medium. In water, the cutting should root within about a week and will be ready to transplant.
Put the cuttings in a warm, but shaded area, being sure to protect them from the scorching heat and direct sun. Keep them moist for a week to acclimate them and then gradually expose them to stronger light until they are finally in the sun for most of the day. At this point, you can transplant them into their permanent location.