The one vegetable that almost all backyard gardeners include in their gardens is the tomato. We usually spend quite a bit of time on this crop.
Staking and pruning are “fine tuning” gardening techniques. They are not absolutely necessary. They certainly won’t make up for deficiencies in fertilizer, water, and mulches, or an inadequate spray program. But, they can enhance the quality of the tomatoes your plants produce. I’ll cover these procedures in some detail, explaining how and why they’re done.
Staking tomato plants, as they grow, will keep the fruit off the ground and conserve space in the garden. Staking also makes it easier to cultivate and harvest tomatoes, and it helps prevent some fruit rots.
In recent years a high percentage of backyard gardeners have started using plant cages which can be used to keep the fruit of the soil, in other crops as well. Eggplants and peppers to name a few. You can purchases these cages at your local garden center.
One precaution when staking tomato is to be very careful and avoid root damage when driving the stakes into the ground to avoid root damage.
Some popular tomato varieties which benefit form staking are: Amelia, BHN 602, BHN 871, Florida 91, Solar Fire, Talladega and Tasti-Lee.
One method of staking, which seems to work week, is to use one-by-two wooden stakes, about six feet long. Drive these about two feet into the soil keeping them three to four inches from each plant. As the plants grow, tie them to the stakes with soft twine or strips of rags. You will probably need to make between four and six ties during the growing season. Always be sure you make the ties below the fruit clusters.
Pruningis the process of removing the small shoots that develop between the leaf stems and the main plant stems. Removing these shoots, or suckers, reduces the total number of fruit that your tomato plants will produce. But this procedure causes the fruit that are produces to be larger.
Tomatoes should be pruned about once a week. When you prune, leave two or three main stems for plant development. Be careful not to disturb the fruit buds, which appear just above, or just below, the point where the leaves are attached to the leaf stems.
Staking and pruning are beneficial steps in tomato culture. As I said staking certain varieties keeps fruit off the ground, reducing some disease problems. It helps conserve space in the garden. Pruning removes the small side branches, called suckers, which forms between main stems and leaf stems. While pruning reduces the total number of fruit, it stimulates development of larger tomatoes.
For more information on staking and pruning tomatoes contact the Gulf County Extension Service at 639-3200 or visit our website: http://gulf.ifas.ufl.edu or www.http://edis.ifas.ufl.edu and see publication SP 103: Florida Vegetable Gardening Guide.