As I sit writing this article, it’s early May, and it’s blowing a gale outside. Flaming June seems a long way off although sunshine and showers provide ultimate growing conditions for many garden plants, if not the ultimate conditions for gardeners. Heavy rain is battering our garden and soft stem perennial plants are laying flat in the borders. It’s now I wish I had used my own advice and provided supports for these plants earlier in spring as they first emerged!
Now that the risks of frosts have passed, it’s now time to plant young tomato plants outside. A question we are often asked is “should I pinch out my tomato plant?” How you prune and train your tomato plants depends on how the cultivar naturally grows. There are two main growth habits termed as indeterminate (also called vine or cordon) or determinate (or bush). When you buy seeds or young plants check the label to see what growth habit the plant has.
Indeterminate varieties produce flowers and fruit on trusses that grow directly from the main stem. Pinch out the laterals (side shoots) that appear between the leaf and the main stem as these produce unproductive vegetation. The only time to pinch out the tops of tomato plants is once the fourth (outdoors) or the sixth (indoor) truss has set. This is because any further produced fruits usually fail to ripen. Indeterminate varieties require support; simply loosely tie the main stem to a bamboo cane. Determinate (Bush) tomatoes produce compact plants with numerous short, side shoots that end in clusters of fruits. Do not remove the side shoots of determinate varieties as this will reduce cropping.
If you grow tomatoes in growbags or pots, these require frequent watering and feeding. The roots should be kept moist, but not waterlogged. Regular use of a liquid tomato food will maintain soil fertility. Potassium will encourage fruit development and prevent greenback, however excessive use of potassium can lead to magnesium deficiency which results in blossom end rot. Use tomato feeds as directed by the manufacture to avoid the incorrect supply of potassium. Splitting fruit is caused by erratic watering and fluctuating temperatures. If you grow plants outdoors, you have little control of the weather; promptly picking fruit in periods of heavy rain reduces losses. The biggest threat to outdoor grown tomatoes (and potatoes) is blight. Blight is a disease caused by a fungus which spreads rapidly in wet weather causing decay and collapse. At the first signs of blight, brown patches appear on both fruit and stems, remove and destroy infected plants (do not add to the compost heap). Crop rotation will help prevent a build up of disease. Bear in mind all tomato plants are susceptible to whitefly attacks, so consider placing some pots of basil or marigolds near your crops - they act as a great natural insect repellent.
Really keep on top of your watering in June, a lack of water now will cause some vegetables to run to seed (bolt) and dry soil will stop many annual flowers from performing their best. Tubs and baskets may require watering twice a day in hot weather. However If your beds, or vegetable plots, need watering then its best to give a really good soaking once or twice a week rather than little and often.
Whatever June brings, I hope you are able to enjoy some time simply relaxing in your garden.
Rachel Sobiechowski BSc (Hons) P&R Garden Supplies, Fengate Drove, Brandon 01842 814800 www.p-rgardensupplies.co.uk