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Tomatoes in need of staking, pruning for best results

A month from now, don’t say I didn’t warn you.

Tomato seedlings that were planted neatly near garden stakes are already beginning to take matters into their own hands, and if allowed to grow willy-nilly will turn into a tangled mass of vines with tomato fruits – many of them rotting – hidden in a dark jungle of stems.

So, if you were planning to stake and prune your tomato plants, start asserting yourself now.

Tomatoes do not have to be staked and pruned to be grown well.

What’s at stake?

Staking is admittedly the more troublesome way to grow tomatoes. But in return for your troubles, you reap earlier fruits, larger fruits, cleaner fruits and more fruits per square foot of garden space. (Only so-called indeterminate tomatoes – those whose stems are forever elongating, as indicated on the seed packet – can be staked.)

To keep the plants neat through the season, the stake has to be sturdy, no smaller than 1 1/2 -square piece of wood, bamboo or metal pipe.

Ongoing pruning

OK, your stakes are in the ground. Your tomatoes are growing well and you’ve been pruning them by snapping off shoots, called suckers, that appear wherever a leaf meets the single stem. So what more do you need to worry about?

Those tomato plants are going to need more attention than you think.

Turn your back on them for what seems like a few minutes, and already little new suckers are picking up steam.

Or, the plant has grown another 12 inches and is starting to flop over.

Time for another tier of soft twine or a strip of cloth looped tightly around the stake, then loosely around the stem to hold it up.