My parents always kept a really large garden with raised beds. My dad taught me how to drastically prune the tomato plant and help it support itself with vertical strings. This method can be a bit scary to try at first, but the results are pretty incredible.
You’ll need some kind of support system for the tomato plants. When pruning them this way, they can grow very tall, over six feet high! Here is how my parents had it set up when I was small:
As you can see, we prune most of the branches from down below. Throughout the season we continue to prune off the ‘suckers’ that like to grow in the fork of two branches. We wrap the main stem of the tomato plant gently around the string to help it grow strong and support itself.
Caution: Do not prune off the young leaves near the growing tip, and do not prune off the growing tip, which is called the terminal bud – the plant will die without it!
This is part of the Mittleider Method of gardening, a method my parents used my entire life. Jacob Mittleider was an amazing gardener and taught classes all over the world. His legacy lives on at Food for Everyone where you can purchase his amazing gardening books. To learn more about growing tomatoes vertically, take a look at the Growing Tomatoes book, you can view it online for free here. It explains just how to begin pruning (or pinching) your baby tomato plants as seedlings whether you grow them yourself or purchase them from a nursery.
Benefits of growing tomatoes vertically
- Most of your tomatoes end up a nice, uniform size as they aren’t all squashed together in a big bush of a plant.
- The tomatoes ripen more evenly, with uniform color — great if you’re sharing or selling your produce.
- Traditional methods often leave the bushes sprawling all over the ground which can bruise or damage the fruit.
- The gardener can more quickly see how each plant is doing, take stock of any bug infestations, blossom wilt, or other problems and remedy them.