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Old 06-29-2020, 08:35 PM   #1
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Trimming tomato plants?

I have a lovely tomato plant that is taking over my little garden. I bought a new variety because my seedlings were a little smaller than I'd hoped and I wanted some earlier toms while I waited for mine to grow. That is all one tomato plant in the middle. My others are in their own cages, dwarfed by its mass. 2 branches escaped the (clearly too small) cage and stretched over 7' from the end of one to the end of the other, breacketed by the red marks in the second picture.

I love that it's thriving and it's full of green tomatoes and flowers, but it's killing my other plants. I already had to pull some peas that it shaded too much because it grew so quickly. It's now threatening my kale, the rest of my peas and even one vine of my cucumbers with its shade. Those tomato plants are 2 feet apart and I don't think I'll actually get much off the closest ones.

Can I trim it back? Or will that ruin its entire harvest? Do I just accept the loss of my other plants and glory in all the grape tomatoes I'll have? Click image for larger version

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Old 06-29-2020, 08:44 PM   #2
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I forgot to mention, it's an indeterminate. And Google said a lot about trimming young plants and suckers, but not much so far about trimming mature plants to save space.
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Old 06-29-2020, 09:11 PM   #3
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What I do is to remove some of the suckers and "top" the big part of the plant. I take what I "top" and plant into another pot. At the moment I have several new "starts" because of doing this.
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Old 06-29-2020, 09:44 PM   #4
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What I do is to remove some of the suckers and "top" the big part of the plant. I take whttat I "top" and plant into another pot. At the moment I have several new "starts" because of doing this.
You can "top" this early in the season? When I read about it they said 4 weeks before first frost, but that's months away. I've only read about topping from one source though, so I'm not super familiar with it.
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Old 06-29-2020, 09:49 PM   #5
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You can "top" this early in the season? When I read about it they said 4 weeks before first frost, but that's months away. I've only read about topping from one source though, so I'm not super familiar with it.
Never had a problem. I just take the "topped" portions and put them into another potted planter. Yup, yuppers...another tomato plant.
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Old 06-29-2020, 09:53 PM   #6
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Never had a problem. I just take the "topped" portions and put them into another potted planter. Yup, yuppers...another tomato plant.

That's amazing!
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Old 06-29-2020, 09:58 PM   #7
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Welcome back!

I'm not sure how tall those tomato cages are, but it is obviously not large enough, and the plant is spreading out from it. Something I did years ago, while still using 4' cages (the largest available then), was to turn one upside down on another, and wired them together, to make a very tall cage, for those large plants. You can trim that, with no damage, except loss of anything on those trimmings. The plant will keep growing!
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Old 06-29-2020, 10:07 PM   #8
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IMO, those conical cages are worthless. I found some large triangular cages and put one on top of the other and wired them together.
I live in a MHP, and only have 4 plants, but they are going crazy! Since there are only the two of us, we will have tomatoes all summer
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Old 06-30-2020, 06:06 AM   #9
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I found some square cages from Burpee. They fold flat when not in use. They also have extensions. They were expensive, but are sturdy and last. Mine are at least 3 years old, if not 4.
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Old 06-30-2020, 06:25 AM   #10
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you can prune back indeterminates without terminating the crop - they keep growing and growing and growing - it's not unusual to have 7-10 ft long plants by mid to end of season....

trimming/pruning off the tops/terminal ends will "encourage" the "sucker" shoots at lower nodes.

determinate stop growing after fruit set - those you don't want to prune.

there are "heavy duty" conical cages - the wire is much thicker - but they still don't hold up for tomatoes - I use them for sweet peppers. 1986 I got some steel spiral tomato stakes - still in use this year....
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Old 06-30-2020, 06:27 AM   #11
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Choose the branches that are causing the most problems and take them off. You could do as suggested and repot them if you want, although it sounds to me like you are going to have a plethora of tomatoes anyhow!

Remember that tomatoes are a vine and will go sideways if allowed, hence the cages.
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Old 06-30-2020, 10:34 AM   #12
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Never had a problem. I just take the "topped" portions and put them into another potted planter. Yup, yuppers...another tomato plant.
Thanks Katie. You just solved my "no tomato's after August" problem. We are usually spent by late summer, sometimes sooner and then are faced with no more homegrown tomato's. A bleak forecast I must say.
And store bought tomato's are crap!
The only one I have found that is worth buying is (Tasty Lee) brand. Check "tasty" spelling. Publix, I think carries them?

I can now take tomato tops near the end or even now and start a few more plants. I have 18 right now. Cherokee Purple and Rutgers.

OP. Tomato plants need plenty room. I would not prune the plant much at all. I only remove discolored limbs and bottom suckers. I would get some sturdy sticks and push them into the ground and pull up and tie some of the limbs. Pull them up off the smaller plants. Or pull up from the basket/cage.

Next year you should either do a bigger space or get plants that grow slower and do not get as tall and wide.
"Patio" tomato plants do very well in a sunny garden and stay reasonably small.
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Old 06-30-2020, 09:24 PM   #13
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I've learned my lesson on this variety! When I purchased it, the directions said 2 feet between plants, so I stuck to that rule, which clearly was insufficient! I'm slowly expanding my garden space, but trying to stick to my budget. I'm currently in year one of amending my next section, so hopefully by next season or the following it will be good for more than just zucchini. We have terrible soil, full of clay, so it has taken quite a bit of work to amend it, especially while staying on-budget. I've spent 3 years working in my home-compost, peat moss and some purchased soil. This year I added more top soil. My past tomato plants have produced plenty for our needs, but nowhere near this. Looks like I've finally gotten somewhere with my soil quality!

I foolishly thought this was a patio variety, so it's actually in one of the smaller tomato cages. I agree that even the largest cages would struggle with this beast! I did some trimming today, replanted 3 of the cuttings, and made some good progress. Tomorrow after work I'll try to stake up the remaining problem vines.

Thank you all for the advice!
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Old Yesterday, 05:50 AM   #14
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LOL - well, I think you've gotten a wonderful learning mistake! better too many than not any! But as an aside, remember that tomatoes are heavy feeders and the same soil next year might be insufficient to feed a tomato plant next year. I've had times where tomatoes do well for 4 years in the same spot, then the 5th year, disaster. Same with eggplants. Then I looked it up and found I should have been rotating them all!... I'm not a very successful gardener, but I try.
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Old Yesterday, 06:32 AM   #15
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LOL - well, I think you've gotten a wonderful learning mistake! better too many than not any! But as an aside, remember that tomatoes are heavy feeders and the same soil next year might be insufficient to feed a tomato plant next year. I've had times where tomatoes do well for 4 years in the same spot, then the 5th year, disaster. Same with eggplants. Then I looked it up and found I should have been rotating them all!... I'm not a very successful gardener, but I try.
We add fresh compost to our garden soil every year.
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Old Yesterday, 10:02 AM   #16
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I've learned my lesson on this variety! When I purchased it, the directions said 2 feet between plants, so I stuck to that rule, which clearly was insufficient! I'm slowly expanding my garden space, but trying to stick to my budget. I'm currently in year one of amending my next section, so hopefully by next season or the following it will be good for more than just zucchini. We have terrible soil, full of clay, so it has taken quite a bit of work to amend it, especially while staying on-budget. I've spent 3 years working in my home-compost, peat moss and some purchased soil. This year I added more top soil. My past tomato plants have produced plenty for our needs, but nowhere near this. Looks like I've finally gotten somewhere with my soil quality!

I foolishly thought this was a patio variety, so it's actually in one of the smaller tomato cages. I agree that even the largest cages would struggle with this beast! I did some trimming today, replanted 3 of the cuttings, and made some good progress. Tomorrow after work I'll try to stake up the remaining problem vines.

Thank you all for the advice!
2 foot spacing for the same variety would have been fine. Interwoven branches are not a big deal. But your small plants getting little sun is.
I know some gardeners that do not cage or stake at all.
They just let them fall and allow them to produce this way. All the tops point up and it does work.
Clay is our issue as well. Deep south. We put all our grass trimmings in the garden every fall. As much as 2 -3 feet of trimmings each year. I have added countless bricks of peat moss as well.
I used to work it in myself each winter. It still is clumpy. A tiller is required.

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We add fresh compost to our garden soil every year.
I have yet to get a compost pile going. I should, as I have plenty room. But the turning would be very hard on me. I would need many more times what compost bins can provide.
So, we just cover the complete garden with grass trimmings, leaves, and lawn debris.
Then I get someone to till it in each year.

I am going to seriously think hard about a compost pile. I have some very old lumber that must be used or burned.
I could build a three sided wall with floor. I am already getting ideas typing this this! Thanks GG.
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Old Yesterday, 10:28 AM   #17
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I built my first compost last year. 3 pallets in a U shape and half a pallet across the front. Nothing on the bottom but a bunch of small branches. It does not get turned as often as it should but I understand it will take several years to be perfect. Built my 2 compost this year and am just starting on it.
Depending on the first compost, if it is ready next year, then fine. If not I'll do a third one.

I have grass, household, goose and chicken poop that goes in it. I should water it during the heat waves but it is usually last on my to-do-list and gets left off more than it should.
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Old Yesterday, 10:49 AM   #18
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Another thing to do - get a soil test. Either when just starting out with an area, or after a few years. Simply adding fertilizer year after year may not be what is needed, and adding compost yearly, like I do, doesn't always add everything needed - almost every time I needed some N in each area, and only a few times K in one area (the tomato area). I have never been short on Mg or Ca - always high or very high on those (their levels are low, ideal, high, very high, and excessive)! Yet these are things people often add to their soil without thinking about it, digging in some limestone, gypsum, or dolomite.

The best place I have found for a soil test is the lab at U of Connecticut. I do this every 3 or 4 years. The standard test tests for pH, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Mn, Cu, S...there's a lot more they do that I won't remember! lol And they give you a recommendation for the amount of fertilizer, depending on what you are growing in the area. All that for $12, which is the best I found, when researching soil tests.
Soil Testing Lab
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Old Yesterday, 01:38 PM   #19
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Another thing to do - get a soil test. Either when just starting out with an area, or after a few years. Simply adding fertilizer year after year may not be what is needed, and adding compost yearly, like I do, doesn't always add everything needed - almost every time I needed some N in each area, and only a few times K in one area (the tomato area). I have never been short on Mg or Ca - always high or very high on those (their levels are low, ideal, high, very high, and excessive)! Yet these are things people often add to their soil without thinking about it, digging in some limestone, gypsum, or dolomite.

The best place I have found for a soil test is the lab at U of Connecticut. I do this every 3 or 4 years. The standard test tests for pH, N, P, K, Ca, Mg, Mn, Cu, S...there's a lot more they do that I won't remember! lol And they give you a recommendation for the amount of fertilizer, depending on what you are growing in the area. All that for $12, which is the best I found, when researching soil tests.
Soil Testing Lab
Agreed. Just FYI, all state land-grant universities have a Cooperative Extension program where soil tests are done.
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Old Yesterday, 03:46 PM   #20
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Agreed. Just FYI, all state land-grant universities have a Cooperative Extension program where soil tests are done.
You're right, GG, but they vary greatly, as far as what they will do, without extra payments for some of the things included in this one. Here, Rutgers costs more, for less. I originally used U of Minnesota, until a lady on one gardening forum posted the link to this, letting us know all that it did. And another thing most require is that you dry the sample out, before sending it in, while UOC doesn't. No big deal, but something I don't have to bother with now!
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