By Tina Jepson
Since tomatoes are a fairly fickle plant, about halfway through the summer you may be wondering how to maximize your tomato yield.
But first, let’s consider why your tomato plants aren’t producing the way you want them to. All garden plants can easily be negatively impacted by too much or too little water, inadequate sunlight, pests, unbalanced soil levels, and so on. However, you could provide your tomatoes everything they need and more and still notice a lack of growth.
What gives? It’s completely possible two things are going wrong:
1. Bees and other pollen-loving insects aren’t coming to your garden, or there hasn’t been enough wind lately, both of which greatly aid the pollination process.
2. You aren’t pruning your plant enough to redistribute its energy
By focusing on these two things, you’ll all but guarantee a thriving garden. Are you ready to maximize your tomato yield this summer? Here’s how!
Hand Pollination for Beginners
Choosing to hand-pollinate tomatoes is never a hard decision for me. In fact, I always pollinate the first flowers from my tomato plants every year.
Yes, it’s completely true that tomatoes are equipped with both male and female parts within each flower. But if the elements aren’t cooperating and there isn’t ample wind and/or insects, pollination is never a given. Therefore, if you want to guarantee early tomatoes, or if it’s too hot, cold, humid, or rainy, then hand-pollination is the way to go.
To hand-pollinate your tomatoes, you need just three tools:
1. An electric toothbrush
2. Cotton swabs
3. Stellar eyesight
Start by shaking your tomato plant, particularly the small branches with flowers attached. This movement helps to loosen the pollen from the flowers. Then, take your electric toothbrush (I use a battery-powered children’s toothbrush that cost $6) and gently place the vibrating brush directly behind each flower, allowing the flower to move. This will help distribute the pollen within each flower.
Then, about two or three days later, use a cotton swab or fine-tipped paintbrush and gingerly swirl it inside each flower. This is another great way to move the pollen from the male to female flower parts.
Alternate these two methods every two or three days for as long as you want, and you’ll help your tomatoes produce quickly and effectively.
How can trimming your plant promote growth? Just think about it in terms of energy usage. When an indeterminate tomato plant uses its energy on 15 branches as opposed to 30, that means that more energy, and thus nutrients, are expended on a smaller number of fruits. So, in a way, controlled growth=healthier (possibly larger) fruit. Jackpot!
Keep in mind that determinate tomato plants grow to a particular height (3-5 feet), produce fruit within a short time period, and then ultimately die off. Because they don’t grow unchecked like indeterminates, you don’t need to prune them.
However, pruning indeterminate tomatoes is highly recommended, and is actually quite simple.
To prune your tomato plants, you only need a pair of pruning shears or utility scissors. Next, find the second-lowest cluster of flowers. Working downwards from this point, use your fingers or the pruning shears/scissors and carefully remove the plant’s suckers.
What are suckers? Tomato suckers are the growth found between the main stem and a branch. Suckers start out small and leafy but grow into thick branches over time. By taking them off the bottom of your plant, you concentrate the growth toward the top of the plant.
Once you remove these suckers, give your tomatoes time to grow and thrive. If you notice dead leaves or broken branches, remove them promptly. In a matter of weeks, you’ll begin to notice a stronger main stem and concentrated fruits.
Is there anything better than a warm, red, juicy Brandywine fresh from the vine? I honestly can’t think of anything off the top of my head.
But it’s up to you to ensure your tomatoes grow to their maximum potential in terms of both size and overall yield, and you can do this through hand-pollination and pruning.
Images used with permission, courtesy of Tina Jepson, www.dreamstime.com, and www.shutterstock.com