Prune Your Plants for Bigger Yields

Are your tomatoes are taking over? Basil blowing up? Squash seizing control? While it may seem counterintuitive, cutting back your plants may benefit them—and you.

There are many perks to this process known as "pruning":

  1. Increases crop production. Pruning tells a plant to focus its energy on production rather than new growth. And when a plant focuses on production, you get more food!
  2. Encourages more compact growth. If left alone, some plants (looking at you, indeterminate tomatoes) can get out of control. Pruning yields a strong, compact plant, rather than a tall, leggy one that’s hard to manage. This also prevents one plant from overshadowing others in your Tower Garden.
  3. Reduces risk of plant disease. Many plant diseases thrive in wet environments with poor air circulation. Dense plant growth encourages such conditions, but pruning can help.

Pruning can increase crop production, encourage healthy growth, and prevent plant diseases.

How to Prune Your Tower Garden

Pruning practices vary somewhat depending on the plant. But a few best practices apply to all:

  • Use clean cutting tools. If you’ve recently used a tool to cut away diseased plant material, you don’t want to transfer the disease to another plant.
  • Leave a stub of the stem or branch. Don’t cut one branch cleanly off another.
  • Prune no more than 1/3 of the plant. Otherwise, you may actually make it less productive.
  • Regularly remove dying leaves of the lower-most mature branches. Prevent plant disease by removing older bottom leaves as they naturally begin turning yellow or brittle.

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s dive into plant-specific pruning advice:

Pruning Tomatoes

When a tomato plant is pruned or pinched—which is when you use your thumb and forefinger instead of cutting tools to remove the soft tips of young plant stems—it produces two stems instead of one. Pruning is critical for directing and containing the growth of indeterminate tomato varieties, which keep growing (unlike determinate varieties, which stop after a certain point).

Start pruning tomatoes when the plant has 6 leaves per stem, keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Cut at the internode between the 4th and 5th leaf. At each node, a new stem will grow, producing 4 new branches. Once these branches have developed into main structural branches, you can prune again to shape your plant as needed.
  • Never cut close to the stem you want to remain. This prevents pathogens from entering the main stem of the plant.
  • Remove suckers (side shoots). Suckers are the growth that appears in the crotch between the stem and a branch. Remove them to direct your plant’s energy into the strongest fruit-bearing stems.

Pinching Basil

For herbs like basil, pruning is often considered harvesting. But whatever you call it, regularly pinching off some of the plant encourages new growth and delays bolting (i.e., the process of flowering and producing seed, which ends the growing cycle).

You can start pruning a basil plant once it has developed 6–8 pairs of true leaves. Simply pinch the stem about 1/4 inch above where the plant is branching.

Sometimes you will see new leaf growth in the axil of the stem and mature leaf—this is the future branch.

Deadheading Flowers

When it comes to flowers, pruning is better known as deadheading. To deadhead, simply cut away flowers once they’ve bloomed and begun to fade. Most flowers will respond to deadheading by producing another cycle of blooms.

Deadheading essentially prevents a flower from producing seed (which, as mentioned above, ends the plant’s growing cycle).

Thinning Other Plants

Tomatoes, basil and flowers are the plants you’ll need to prune most often. But others can benefit from an occasional pruning as well. For example, thinning squash leaves can help prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew. And pinching off flowers can help a pepper plant focus its energy on existing fruits.

Summary and Additional Resources

Pruning is one of the easiest ways for you to increase crop production, encourage healthy growth, and prevent plant diseases.

Be sure to check out these additional resources for more information about pruning:

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

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