In the Garden:
New England
July, 2010
Regional Report

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Tomatoes are the top vegetable grown in home gardens.

Common Tomato Questions

Tomatoes are by far America's most popular vegetable for the home garden. So, for all those gardeners out there eagerly awaiting those luscious, ripe fruits, here are answers to some common tomato growing questions.

Do I need to prune my tomato plants and, if so, how do I do it?
The short answer is no, you don't need to prune plants to get a good crop, but pruning can be helpful at times. First thing is to understand the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties. Determinate varieties are ones that tend to stop growing once the shoots set fruit. Indeterminate ones just keep growing and growing. In general, determinate varieties do better with little pruning, since they are smaller plants and removing the suckers may take away too much foliage and leave the ripening fruits vulnerable to sunscald.

Removing the suckers on larger, indeterminate varieties can help reduce fungal problems by opening up the mass of foliage to light and air, especially if you are supporting your plants in cages. It can also help to keep the size of these continually growing plants in bounds. It will reduce the overall yield of your tomato plant, but pruned plants tend to produce larger fruits that ripen a little earlier than those on unpruned vines.

So exactly where are these suckers that you'll prune off? They are the side shoots from the main stem that grow in the angle between the leaf stalks and the main stem. When they are a couple of inches long, just reach in and pinch them off with your fingers by gently rocking the sucker back and forth until it breaks off.

Why do my tomatoes sometimes develop circular cracks?
This cracking occurs when the tomato suddenly enlarges too quickly as it ripens. The cracks usually occur at the stem end of the fruit. Sometimes they form concentric circles; sometimes they radiate out vertically. When tomato fruits are at the mature green stage and the water supply to the plant decreases, the tomato begins to ripen. The thickening of the outer layer of the tomato skin is part of this process. If the plant's water supply increases suddenly again, as when heavy rain follows a period of drought, the fruits enlarge rapidly and this tougher outer layer cracks. Some varieties, especially some of the older ones, are especially susceptible to cracking. To control this problem, try to keep soil moisture consistent by watering regularly, especially as tomato fruits are maturing, and make sure the soil around the plants is well mulched.

My tomato plant has blossoms on it, but they drop off without setting fruit.
This could be because of temperature extremes. If it gets below 55 degrees at night or above 90 degrees during the day, your plants may not set fruit until the weather moderates.

What causes puckering and corky brown strips on my tomatoes?
Called catfacing, the deformed fruits with stripes of scar tissue form after something interferes with the normal development of the tomato flower. This can be the result of temperature extremes, especially cold, or drought. It is most common on the first fruits of the season. Don't set out plants too early when the weather is still cool.

The leaves on my tomatoes are curling up. Is this a disease?
Tomato leaf roll is a temporary condition, the causes of which are not completely understood. It usually appears about the time plants are setting fruits and starts on the older leaves first. It often occurs when the soil moisture is excessive, such as after a period of heavy rain. When the soil dries out, the leaves unroll. Leaf roll is most common on plants that are staked or pruned. This condition doesn't seem to have any long-term effect on the growth of the vine or tomato production. Some varieties seem to be more prone to leaf curling than others. If leaf rolling occurs regularly in your garden, it could be an indication that you need to work on improving soil drainage.



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