I currently have a tomato jungle growing in my raised bed garden. Many of the plants are taller than me and have stems full of thick leaves, which makes it nearly impossible to see all the fruit that’s growing. If you know me, then you know I like an organized garden so these unwieldy plants are not fitting into my design plan! But more importantly, densely grown tomato plants are more susceptible to disease and pests. So a bit of careful pruning is definitely needed to make things look more tidy and to keep the plants healthy by increasing light and air flow to all parts of the plant. So where to do I begin? First, let’s discuss why some tomatoes grow out of control while others stay compact and bush-like.
Tomatoes aren’t the only plants growing in this raised bed. Believe it or not, there are small Violet Sparkle Pepper plants and Marigolds planted but they are completely hidden by the bulky branches of the overgrown tomatoes. What you see is not an ideal growing situation because the peppers can’t access the sunlight they need to grow.
The tomato plants you see above are an indeterminate variety, which means they grow in a sprawling manner. Some varieties grow as tall as 12 feet, but most average around 6 feet. Indeterminate types will require staking to keep them upright. If you look closely, you can see a yellow tomato cage in the photo above, but like the peppers, it’s hidden by the ginormous tomato plant. Indeterminate varieties also tend to have longer growing seasons and produce fruit continuously until frost. Determinant types grow to a defined size/height and set their flowers and form fruit all at once. Determinant varieties are perfect for small urban gardens or container gardens.
So in order to get continuous tomato harvests well into late summer, I always opt for indeterminate types like Indigo Apple, Honey Delight Hybrid and Black Vernissage – even though they require more maintenance in the garden. So depending on the size of your urban garden, you will need to consider which type of tomato you want to grow.
I start to tame my overgrown tomatoes by clipping the tallest top branches of the plant so it will stand at a reasonable height. I try to avoid branches with fruit, but sometimes I decide to trim a few of those too. Next, I begin trimming branches and leaves further down the plant to help open up the space and create a clearer line of sight from one side to the other. Providing a clearing helps improve air flow and access to sunlight. I also remove as many of the suckers that I missed when the plant was smaller. Some of the suckers have produced fruit, so I am conscious of which ones to prune. But any suckers without fruit definitely get snipped off. And last, I prune any leaves at the base of the plant that are touching the soil. My new pruners really made the task easy!
Here are a few ‘after shots’ of the tomato bed after it was pruned.
Pruning is a mindful process, but it can make a world of difference in the look and health of your tomatoes and the plants growing around them.