July News from the MMG Edible Demonstration Garden
June arrived along with the longest day of the year and vegetables that are in their peak growth time, zucchini spreading their large leaves around the garden and tomatoes growing wildly begging to be controlled. Our team spent a lot of time this month just supporting and managing this growth. But before that discussion, here are a few thoughts about watering.
Your vegetable plants will need more water in June than any other month of the summer. Why? The longest day of the year and thus the most sun and heat occurred on June 21st. At the Demo garden, we have boosted our irrigation time to take into account the longer daylight hours. Gardeners should be assessing the moisture in their soil regularly either using a water meter that can be purchased at garden supply stores or just using your hand to gather a soil sample from the garden bed. The day after watering, grab a handful of soil at the root level of the plants in your bed or ground and try to form a ball. If the handful of soil crumbles immediately, then more water is needed. On the other hand, if you are able to form the soil into a ball that sticks together with some water dripping from it, then you are watering too much. You’ve hit the ‘just right’ moisture level when the soil can be formed into a ball but crumbles at the edges. Get your hands dirty regularly as you try to reach that perfect level of moisture for your garden.
Tomato plants have both flowering branches and leaf branches that grow from a central stalk. Without pruning, tomatoes can become like plants in a jungle, thickly branched with lots of leaves forming a dense clump of vegetation. In addition, suckers often grow between the Y formed by a central stalk and a leafy branch. Many gardeners know to remove these suckers. But if one escapes your notice and grows, it will often form a flowering branch. There’s nothing wrong with having a few more flowering branches although you might have smaller tomatoes.
How To Prune Tomatoes
Last year our tomatoes in the Demo garden were not pruned and became thick and unmanageable. This year our team is paying more attention and trying to do some thoughtful pruning. The most important pruning you can do is at the bottom of the plant. Prune any branches with leaves that touch the ground because these leaves can be vectors for soil borne diseases. We are also carefully pruning some leafy branches in order to open up the plant for better air circulation, another way to prevent disease. But there is another possible benefit to pruning leaf branches. Tomatoes produce lots of leaves and many cannot access the sun for photosynthesis because they are in the shade. Ideally, all of the tomato leaves on a plant would present toward the sun for the most efficient photosynthesis. So prune with an eye toward leaving the most leaves that will face the sun and not be shaded.
Benefits of Pruning
In late summer or fall, there is one more pruning cut that gardeners might consider depending on their space and ability to access fruit at heights. That is cutting the main leader stalks (usually 2-4) at the top of the plant so that they will stop growing. Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow indefinitely if allowed. But if you top the plant, growth will stop and your plant can put its energy into ripening the tomatoes left on the vines. Determinate varieties will stop growing on their own and do not need pruning at all.
Will you get bigger, juicier tomatoes if you prune? The science does not seem settled on this yet but pruning will help reduce the chance of disease and give your plants their best shot at producing the sugars needed for those luscious tomatoes we all crave.
Consider pruning your tomatoes this season and don’t forget to get your hands dirty!