Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Pruning: No Pain, No Gain

Pruning may be one of the most painful gardening chores, albeit one of the most fruitful.  Pruning should begin with the first seedlings started indoors in late winter. I plant 2-3 seeds for each single plant I expect to put in the garden. When the seedlings emerge, I pinch off the weakest sprouts in order to let the strongest thrive. It pains me every time I clip off the tiny sprouts that had the wherewithal to germinate. Sometimes I transplant them into new soil, despite the fact that I won’t have enough space in the garden to accommodate double the plants I initially planned on. Yet, if I don’t put 2-3 seeds in each starter pot, there’s a chance that not enough will grow. It’s a delicate balance and one that I’m still coming to terms with, which is why my garden often looks more like a jungle than a potager. 

Though it’s late July, it’s not too late to prune the garden back to a semblance of order. In fact, it’s imperative for the health of my tomatoes. There are four things that plants need to grow: soil, water, sun, and air. When tomato vines intertwine and fall over each other, they can no longer breathe or get enough sunlight. 

In our small space, staking with a tall bamboo stake works better than tomato cages. The cages don’t contain the rambling, indeterminate vines. When I prune out the foliage at the base of the plant and remove suckers that sprout in the “V” between the main trunk and branches, it allows the plant to breathe and receive adequate light. It also allows the plant to put energy toward producing larger fruit. Harvesting is easier when we can move between plants, rather than under and through them. 

Of course it’s best to prune when the plant is young and small; weigh that against time, will-power, and the notion that there’s no such thing as too many tomatoes.  Meanwhile, I’m already thinking about where I can squeeze a few more plants next year...

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