Tomato plants

Should I Prune My Tomatoes?

By Faye

The short answer is yes, and no. It depends on what kind of tomato you are growing. If it’s determinate then no pruning is required, but indeterminate tomatoes must be kept in check.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate
This is the key piece of information to look for on the tag when you purchase your tomato start or seed.

Determinate tomato plants have a pre-determined size (just like we do), according to their genetic make-up. They grow like bushes and need no pruning other than removing the leaves below the first flower cluster so that none touch the ground. They tend to ripen their fruit earliest, often all at once.

Indeterminates, grow like vines and will keep climbing and producing fruit, as long as they are alive. In our climate of course this is limited by the onset of cooler temperatures and shorter days.

Why is Pruning Important?
Like all plants, tomatoes depend on photosynthesis to grow. Pruning maximizes this process due to more sun exposure, while minimizing disease. Densely packed leaves take longer to dry, inviting all manner of bacterial and fungal intrusion. Allowing the sun to bless all of the leaves is the goal, especially in our relatively short growing season.

Tomato SuckerHow Do I Prune?
As the tomato plant grows, little side shoots (suckers) sprout up in the crotches, or axils, between the main stem and leaf branches. Each one of these has the potential to grow into a fruiting stem but the result would be a tangled mass of foliage with small fruit slowly ripening in its self-imposed shade. The ideal is to limit the plant to no more than 3-4 stems. Gently pinch off, the little suckers when they are small and easy to remove. (If you turn your back for a day or so, they can quickly grow to shocking proportions, so be vigilant!)

Cut oPrune Hereff all side stems below the first flower cluster then allow only the next two or three suckers above the first cluster to develop. Suckers higher up the plant will be weaker, so be sure to remove those later-developing ones.

If you have limited garden space or a lot of tomato plants that need to be planted close to each other, then limit growth to only one single vining stem, and tie it to a stake.

Planting Tip: Strip off all the bottom leaves, up to 6-8” above the root ball, and bury up to this point when planting. This long lower stem will grow roots, and the bigger the root system, the better the plant. So don’t worry if late-planted tomatoes are a little tall; just bury the excess length. (Or lay sideways in a trench, it will straighten itself out!)

What About Staking?
For the greatest yield, almost all tomatoes need support to improve air circulation and keep fruit and leaves off the ground where they are easy prey for disease and critters. Preferably install supports while the plant is still small so you won’t damage any spreading roots. There are many options:
– Cages
Still the simplest, the ubiquitous tomato cage has grown up a little, now available in taller and wider forms. They are perfect for determinate varieties, and with the addition of a sturdy stake or two, are fine for indeterminates too.
– Stakes
Easy to use for indeterminates and allow easy access for pruning. Simply hammer a 6’ cedar or metal (Rebar is good) stake about a foot into the ground, then tie the main stem to the stake, looping the tie completely around the stake first, then tie the plant to it.Tomato Ladder - web
– Ladders
New this year are 3-sided ladders made for tomatoes. I would probably anchor these with a go
od stake of Rebar, but the design is good for supporting those heavy stems of ripe and delicious tomatoes.
– Spirals
Very elegant, a tall metal spiral stake is set into the ground (past the first coil for stability), and you simply twine the vine around it, tying where needed.

End of Season Care
By about the end of August, gradually start to withhold water, which stresses the plants a little and encourages the fruit already on the vine to ripen. Also, cut off any immature flowers and ‘cap’ the plant by cutting off the ends of fruiting stems. This way, the fruit on the vine will ripen, not having to compete with any new ones forming. There is limited growing time left at this point, and new fruit won’t have time to ripen.

Bee on Mahonia

Plants to Nourish and Encourage Native Bees

by Faye
To keep your local bee population well fed and happy, think ahead to have early blooming flowers in your garden. Bumble bees emerge from their winter nests while the weather is still cold, and need sustenance right away. The Masons are a little later, when the temperature is reliably above 14 degrees C. If there are no nectar flowers to welcome them, they will not survive.

Prefer pink and purple.
They hatch in mid February, so what is available?

  • early Rhodos
  • winter flowering Heathers
  • Sarcococca
  • Forsythia
  • Winter Jasmine

Males hatch about 2 weeks before females, and wait around until females emerge. If there is no food, they either die or fly away and seek food elsewhere. Mid March is usually when the males emerge.
Best plants to have for these early bees are:

  • Pieris (main food source for Masons)
  • Ribes sanguineum
  • Erythronium, Camas, Trillium, other native bulbs
  • all flowering natives
  • Oemleria cerasiformis (Indian plum)
  • Pulmonaria

Ideally, we should arrange to have other flowering plants around to feed the bees BEFORE the fruit trees are ready for pollination. Once the fruit trees are in bloom, probably April, we hope the bees will head to the trees instead of other earlier plants.

There are thousands of species of native bees, probably many hundreds in Victoria alone. Some are specialists (eg only attracted to squash, Aconitum, etc etc), and some are generalists, happy with any flower that passes by.
Generally the younger bees prefer the flat and easily accessible flowers, eg daisies, while some wiser and older ones know how to access even the most convoluted petal arrangement. The bees that like Aconitum for example, tend to be older bees and since only they can figure out the access to this flower, they will go from one Aconitum to the next, achieving cross pollination among all the flowers in the patch. Preferably, plant blocks of the same species of plant, not just an isolated specimen.
It’s extremely important to have a variety of flowering plants, especially natives if possible, throughout the growing season (early flowering to late flowering) to appeal to the widest variety of native bees. While some hybrids have been so carefully selected for colour, size, fragrance etc, many are practically sterile in the pollen-producing department. Native bees find native plants 4 times more attractive than the exotics.
Some good sources of pollen and/or nectar for native bees throughout the seasons: (Pollen supplies the protein and fats, while nectar provides sugars for energy. Those bees work hard!)

  1. Queen Anne’s Lace
  2. Ceanothus
  3. Sedum ‘Autumn Joy’
  4. Rubus Spectabilis (Salmon berry)
  5. Smilacina Stellata (Star Flowered Solomon’s Seal)
  6. Pussy Willow
  7. Sambucus
  8. Solidago
  9. Vaccinium
  10. Mahonia
  11. Penstemon
  12. Amalanchier
  13. Salix
  14. Symphoricarpos
  15. Achillea
  16. Rudbeckia
  17. Coreopsis
  18. Origanum
  19. Echinops
  20. Rosemary
  21. Digitalis – this one is very interesting – male flowers are higher up, less mature (!) than the females which are lower down. Bees always start at the bottom of the flower, work their way up. So they get they get the male pollen on their bodies at the top of one plant, then go to the next one and deposit it on the female flowers of the next plant, thereby fertilizing to set seed. Another good reason to plant flowers in blocks, the bees prefer it.

Planting Trees and Shrubs

He that plants a tree loves others beside himself – Thomas Fuller

1.  Before Planting. Take a moment to consider something that could make a huge difference in the health of your plant. What kind of soil and drainage does the site have? Most failures of new plantings in coastal BC are due to waterlogged soils. If you have heavy, clay soil, one way to avoid problems is by raising the planting area. Planting in a beam or slightly raised mound is an excellent way to get the roots out oaf a wet area. If, when digging the planting hole, you run into clay, it is better to stop digging and instead make that the bottom of your planting hole. Mound soil up around the root ball, starting well away from the plant, to achieve the proper planting height.

shrub pixel size2.  The Planting Hole. Dig the hole the depth of the root ball, but at least twice its width. Loosen the soil around the hole with a shovel or spade fork. Most roots spread away from the plant in the top six inches and this is why it is important to dig a shallow, wide hole so that the roots can travel more easily.

3.  Planting Container Trees and Shrubs. Remove the plant from the container and set the root ball on its side. Handle carefully, especially if the plant is not well rooted. If root-bound, carefully loosen the root ball. If the roots circle the inside of the pot, use a sharp, clean knife to make four vertical cuts, about a half an inch deep, into the lower half of the root ball (about half way down the side and across the bottom). Place the plant in the hole and ensure that it is planted at the proper height. The first major root flare should be just below the surface of the soil. Not deeper (the roots may suffocate).
Planting Balled and Burlapped Trees and Shrubs. Set the root ball into the hole and check to see if the planting height is correct. The first major root flare should end up just below the surface of the finished soil level. Note that the burlap is usually tied around the trunk at a point much higher than the original soil level. Once the root ball is at the proper height, cut the strings and fold the top part of the burlap down the side of the root ball. Do not try to remove the burlap – the root ball can easily fall apart. Be sure to remove all twine or wire from around the trunk and top of the root ball.

4.  Backfilling. Once your container or balled and burlapped plant is in place, fill the hole gently, but firmly, making sure that all gaps and air spaces are filled with soil. Good, rich native soil is best, but very poor soils can be amended with compost or rotted manure. Add a few handfuls of bone meal to the backfill soil and mix well; it will help promote new root growth. Do not apply a high nitrogen fertilizer at planting time – it may burn the roots. Wait at least three weeks before fertilizing and do not fertilize if planting after August 15th.

tree planted139x2505.  Staking Trees. If the tree is too tall to stand alone, it must be staked to avoid shifting in heavy wind or rain. Use two strong stakes, driven into the ground just outside the root ball. Staking must be done carefully with soft strapping material or wire padded inside old hose. Stake at the lower third of the trunk (a 12 foot tree would be staked at four feet above ground). Do not stake to rigidly – leave enough slack to allow some movement. Remove the stakes when the tree is firmly rooted – no longer than one year after planting. Staking is important. We will not guarantee any of our trees if they have not been staked.

6.  Watering. Water well, with a slow soaking to the full depth of the root ball. Build up a ring of soil to make a saucer right over the root ball. This allows good, deep irrigation with your hose on trickle, and is especially important for balled and burlapped plants. Water new plantings adequately, especially in the heat of summer. Keep the soil moist but not soaked, as over watering can cause leaves to turn yellow or fall off. When the soil is dry 3-4 inches below the surface, it is time to water.Staking Trees. If the tree is too tall to stand alone, it must be staked to avoid shifting in heavy wind or rain. Use two strong stakes, driven into the ground just outside the root ball. Staking must be done carefully with soft strapping material or wire padded inside old hose. Stake at the lower third of the trunk (a 12 foot tree would be staked at four feet above ground). Do not stake to rigidly – leave enough slack to allow some movement. Remove the stakes when the tree is firmly rooted – no longer than one year after planting. Staking is important. We will not guarantee any of our trees if they have not been staked.


    7.  Mulching. Mulch the area around the plant to at least its drip line. Ground bark (but not cedar), compost, or leaf mold is good choices. A mulch layer 3 or 4 inches thick insulates the roots from heat and cold, suppresses weeds, and reduces the amount of watering required. To avoid crown rot keep the mulch from direct contact with the lower trunk. This part of a plant likes to be high and dry.