Tomatoes are the perfect plant for container gardening, producing delicious and nutritional fruit as well as adding an attractive plant to your deck or patio. Personally, I was never a big fan of this fruit until I started growing my own. A tomato that’s been lovingly embraced by the sun and ripened on the vine is one of the yummiest summertime treats you can have. Each year I grow enough to use in salads and sandwiches, or just as snacks on their own. Variety is something I love, and tomatoes are a perfect fit for me because there are so many different kinds to choose from. This year, I set aside four pots to grow tomatoes in and went to local nurseries to find my plant starts. My choices were Roma, Golden Jubilee, a heritage variety called ‘Black from Tula’, and the ever-popular cherry tomato.
Over the last few years, I found myself with an excess of black nursery pots that are perfect for small landscaping shrubs and trees. While having lunch at a café one summer, I noticed these types of pots were being used for growing flowers and herbs on their patio. I decided to use the ones I had for my own gardening…tomatoes included. The tomatoes love them and because they do absorb a bit more heat (since they are black) I just keep an eye on their watering needs. One of the important steps I take when growing tomatoes is pruning them back after the blossoms and fruits have started to develop. The reason for this is that tomato plants have quite a bit of foliage and you really want to focus the growing energy on your fruit and not just the leaves. My tomatoes have always benefited from pruning.
There are a few rules for pruning tomatoes that are easily found online or in gardening books, if you want to learn the technical aspects. However, I like to keep it pretty simple and include all my tomato plants when I trim things up. Once my plants are well into blossoming and setting fruit, I feel it’s okay to go ahead and trim away excess stems, leaves and newly forming suckers. This makeover doesn’t leave the most attractive plant at first (except the cherry, which I think looks better and allows the fruit to see more sun), but I’m noticing all the important parts – including the leaves I left – are starting to fill out again. When this happens, the fruits have more space to breathe and potential to grow bigger.
Pruning a Roma tomato plant…the before and after.
How do you know what to remove? I look for stems near the bottom of the plant first that don’t have either flowers or fruit attached. I work my way up to the top, carefully going over each stem before cutting. I also look for suckers (new stems starting to form) and clip those too. Some tomato plants have a tendency to get really tall and lanky and if you are happy with the bounty ripening on the plant, you can “top” it by removing the terminal bud (top growth from the main stem). This will prevent more height and keep the growth focused on the fruits. It will also help with fruit ripening near the end of the growing season.
Different stems on a tomato plant. Left: flowers and fruit. Right: Regular foliage.
If you are hesitant about going too far with pruning, just start with some of the unnecessary stems near the bottom of your plants and keep an eye out for any new stems starting to grow. As the season moves along you will see what needs to be there and what doesn’t. Here’s to happy, healthy, and delicious tomatoes!