Pinching growing tips on tomato seedlings?

9 years ago

Every spring usually after I've transplanted my tomatoes, I find myself strolling through the garden center at Walmart and Home Depot just to look at what plants are available. I'm always invious of the short, stocky and 'pricey' 4" pots of tomatoes. I've wondered if the growers pinch the top growth of seedlings in order to produce a bushier plant.

A couple of weeks ago I googled 'Pinching growing tips on tomato seedlings'. As I expected it pulled up dozens of articles on pruning suckers (a totally different subject, I don't prune but think it might be beneficial to growers with shorter growing seasons.)

I did however find an article called "Tomato seedlings without a greenhouse" by Bob Wildfong of Seeds of Diversity Canada.

The following is an excerpt of that article.

Potting deeply

Tomato seedlings have the remarkable property that they grow roots from their stems wherever they contact soil. You can bury the stems right up to the leaves, and they will happily just grow more roots. To help keep my tomato seedlings compact, I repot them once or twice while they're indoors. At the two-leaf stage, I dig them out and carefully replant them at the very bottom of a small container. By filling the container, burying the stem so that only the leaves stick up above the soil, the seedling is shortened and it becomes stouter and stronger. If you have room for larger containers, you can keep re-burying seedlings to shorten them until planting time arrives.

When you plant in the garden, you have one more chance to shorten the seedlings. Even if your tomatoes are very long and stringy, plant them so that only the top four or five leaves are above the soil. This helps prevent the stems from blowing and breaking in the wind, and it adds to the root mass. The seedlings will grow very quickly once they take hold, and the lost height will be made up before you know it.

Pruning without mercy

The easiest way to shorten tomato seedlings is also the most difficult for beginners. You have to do this a few times before you can really have faith that the little plants will grow back. Believe me, you can prune your beloved seedlings quite hard, and they will thankfully grow back healthier and stronger.

My favourite method of pruning tomato seedlings is to pinch the tops when they have three good, strong leaves and a fourth emerging about 3-4 weeks old. Tomato seedlings have alternate leaves one leaf grows out one side of the stem, then another grows out the other side a little further up, and so on. The original seed leaves fall off soon after the true leaves start to grow: don't count these. When you see the fourth leaf beginning to unfurl on a little stem, snip or pinch it off above the third leaf. What happens?

Nothing seems to happen for about a week, which is good because the plant is growing a stronger stem and roots instead of more leaves. Then you should see more strong growth at the top and sides, which you can pinch or train as you wish. This happens anyway later in the plant's life (many people call the side growth suckers) and there are many theories and religions based on suckering (whether or not to, and how and when to do it). I won't get into that right now.

By the time you plant your seedlings, they will be stockier, fuller and healthier than the long, stringy tomatoes that they might have been.

Good care and good weather are still the most important ingredients for a good harvest, but early in the year we have more control over our plants and it feels good to put healthy seedlings in the newly-prepared garden. I hope your spring is full of promise, and your harvest is full of delicious lovely tomatoes.

Bob Wildfong

The seeds I started last Sunday have begun sprouting this last Friday night and I'm thinking of experimenting with some of each of the indeterminate varieties I've started.

My question is Has anyone had any experience with this and or What do you think? Thanks in advance.


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