When it was time to put my greenhouse tomato plants back in the greenhouse for the winter, the plants needed some help first. They had gotten rather tall and narrow from their first winter, which was last winter. I planted them from seed last mid winter and they only knew life in the greenhouse for the first few months. I kept raising the greenhouse lights as they grew, until it was warm enough to put them on the patio for the summer. We did eat fresh tomatoes from them in May, long before the outdoor tomatoes were producing. However, once the outdoor garden was in full swing, these tomatoes may have been neglected some. They did get regular watering and I even fertilized them with fish emulsion a couple of times, but branches had dried. One pot had been sitting straight down from the edge of the roof gutters, which overflowed during a massive thunderstorm. A lot of soil was washed away and the roots were exposed. Amazingly, both plants were still giving me the occasional tomato.
When I went to prune the tomato plants, I saw that they each had some new, robust growth down near the base. This encouraged me that their roots were good, despite the gangly appearance of the top growth. It also made me think that it might be a good idea to prune them shorter than I had planned. Maybe I could train them to grow lower. This might make better use of my greenhouse lights, enabling more of the tomato plant foliage to receive optimum light.
So, I set to snipping away. I used basic pruning techniques. I cut branches about ¼ inch from the main stem, so as not to accidentally injure what I wanted to save. I cut off dead matter first. Then, I pruned for approximate height. Lastly, I made small adjustments for balanced form. I wasn’t going for beauty, but thinking it might help the plants grow straight. I did lean toward saving branches with a healthy looking blossom on them, if they were close enough to the rest of the plan. I did pick a tomato, too.
The soil in the pots is the same soil that I use for starting seeds for all of my plants. I knew that it would be a huge headache if I put it in the pot dry. Instead, I mixed it with water to the consistency of cooked oatmeal before I filled in where I needed to. It is always so handy that tomato plants are not sensitive to how high up their stems the soil goes. I’ve even had some in my outdoor garden take root where a branch was touching the soil and got covered by a little mulch.
The next order of business was some low-tech, low-budget support for the still semi-flopping plants. Other chores were calling, so I didn’t want to put a lot of time into this right then. I came up with snapping a couple of bamboo stakes into 3 pieces each and placing 3 pieces around each plant. Next, I found some string that I had saved from chicken feed bags. This I wound cage-like around the stakes, trying to make sure it wasn’t cutting into the plants anywhere. It seemed to work, and has now stayed in place for about 3 weeks.
With all this to upset their equilibrium, and a few more warm days on the horizon, I then watered them well and left them in a protected spot on the south facing patio. That close to the house, they would be safe from a light frost even if I forgot to bring them in for the night.
But, finally the day came when they needed to come in to the greenhouse for good. I adjusted the greenhouse lights down to match the current height of the plants. Now, I have to remember to turn the lights off and on again every day, as well as gently shake any blossoms that appear, for pollination. I plan to keep the plants at least this short, and possibly prune them shorter, depending on how well the lower growth is doing. I have lots of canned and dried tomatoes for various types of cooking and snacking, but it will sure be nice if I get some fresh tomatoes from these plants once in a while.