When to remove the growing tip
Tomato plants have two stages of growth – the vegetative (growth) and the reproductive stage (fruiting).
Professional growers are aware of the fact that they need to encourage plants from one stage to the other and to keep a balance that will produce a good crop of tomatoes over a set period of time. This is done by nutrition and pruning to name but two methods.
The growing tip is the most “favoured” part of the tomato plant. It is able to take (mobile) nutrients from lower leaves if there is a shortage of nitrogen or magnesium for example. You will see this happen when the lower leaves turn pale green or yellow and upper leaves look perfectly healthy.
If we remove the growing tip before the first truss has set, that is, started to grow small tomatoes, we will be sending the nitrogen meant for cell growth of the growing tip, around the plant. This will keep the plant in the vegetative stage longer, producing leaves rather than fruit.
However, after the first truss has set, a small burst of nitrogen is beneficial. A plant won’t produce heavy leaf growth because the plant has already entered the fruiting stage or reproductive stage but will encourage further truss development higher up. This is particularly useful when growing large varieties that tend to run out of steam when they reach the third truss.
To sum up – when to remove the growing tip
It’s best not to remove the growing tip at least until after the first truss has set. You may have several trusses set before the growing tip needs to be removed, which is good, but the plant should be in the fruiting stage.
The number of trusses
I generally allow six or seven trusses on a tall cherry variety. Five or six on a medium variety and four or five trusses on a beefsteak variety. However, some varieties are more vigorous than others and that is relevant too.
I have to admit that I have a soft spot for growing bush varieties.
No pruning, little staking and among the first to mature are just some of their benefits.
Of course they do tend to mature over a shorter period than tall (cordon) varieties, but in a UK summer, we don’t get a very long fruiting period anyway!
There are many great bush varieties such as Red Alert, Maskotka, Legend, Oregon Spring and Black Sea Man – not forgetting the many “Tumbler” types. The quickest fruiting variety I’ve ever grown is Red Alert, with mature fruit by the end of May or beginning of June – if sown in February.
Pruning bush varieties
Although we don’t usually prune bush varieties, there are times when if a plant produces too many flower buds or clusters, we may decide to prune a few, in order to promote better growth of the flowers that have already set fruit.
When tall varieties are not pruned
Tall varieties are sometimes grown as bush varieties – by allowing all the side shoots to grow – creating a big untidy bush! The plant that holds the record for the most cherry tomatoes was grown this way.
In long season areas, this is a common practice and gardeners in these areas can’t understand why those in short season areas remove side shoots at all!
Quicker to ripen
However, like many things we do when growing tomatoes, pruning is done in order to bring fruit to maturity sooner – in a short season area like the UK, this is obviously important.
Feeding with tomato food high in potassium is also done to make tomatoes ripen more quickly before temperatures drop and the autumn chill begins.
The record breaker
It’s interesting to note that the record breaker tall variety, grown as a bush variety, was fed on a balanced vegetable feed. The average pack of tomato food, heavy in potassium, will encourage fruit to mature more quickly, but will also bring a plant to the end of its life cycle sooner. Given a long summer with plenty of time for fruit to ripen, a balanced feed may be more suitable and produce better results.
Feeding for boosting upper truss growth
- Feeding tomato food as soon as the fruit tomatoes appear on the first truss works OK for cherry varieties but if growing medium or beefsteak toms a balanced feed is better.
- When the first trust has set fruit, giving a balanced feed for a week or two (with more nitrogen than tomato food) will encourage the development of the upper trusses.
The season so far
It’s been a good season so far in the UK, with few reports of stunted growth, leaf curl, tomatoes maturing before they reach full size and fewer fruit on trusses to name but a few issues that occur when the weather is very inconsistent.
Tomato plants like consistent conditions so when we get wide variation in temperatures, wet/dry conditions etc., we get plants behaving badly!
I hope yours are on their best behaviour!