Do you have your hands in a strangle hold around your tomato plants about to yank them out to make room for fall crops?
Back away slowly and run for your pruning shears instead!
Those tomatoes that gave you precious gems this summer can give them to you this fall too.
Sure, you could go buy transplants next month and start over, but you already have sturdy plants in the ground with a proven track record so save yourself the cost of those transplants.
The advantages of keeping your current plants are that you know which ones produced well and which ones didn’t, a strong root structure has already developed, and they are free.
PRUNE THE TOMATOES
Even if you still see a few flowers, pollen isn’t viable once the day temperature rises above 95 degrees. A few tomatoes might still form, but it isn’t worth taxing the plant and generally the tomatoes don’t have the great flavor you remember from earlier in the summer.
Trim each plant down to about three leafing stems. Trim off any dead limbs and leaves from each limb. Pull out any plants that didn’t produce well. Trimming each down lets the plant focus on new growth.
Remove old mulch and throw it into your compost bin or garbage can. With some other vegetables, you may be able to reuse the mulch, but tomatoes are notorious for disease transfer so it isn’t worth the chance, especially because through pruning drastically, you are opening wounds until they heal.
Lay down 3-6 inches of fresh compost. Then lay down about six inches of mulch. I like to use straw (not hay because it contains seeds) for the mulch because worms love to eat it and it allows air to get through to the compost. Pull the straw a few inches away from the main plant stem so moisture doesn’t rest up against it.
Water your tomatoes and spray the leaves above and under so you can knock off any pests that may be hiding.
I also spray on a bit of fish emulsion mixed in water 1:5 ratio onto the plant, not on the ground. If the smell of fish emulsion bothers you, use compost tea. You can buy fish emulsion from most nurseries and home improvement stores that have gardening supplies. Many nurseries also carry compost tea. I buy mine from Ewing, an irrigation supply store. The fish emulsion or compost tea gives the tomatoes a head start. Repeat this every two weeks. Don’t worry. It won’t flavor your tomatoes. Just make sure that you wash them before you eat them! Some people like to alternate between fish emulsion and compost tea to offer the different nutrients. I do this and I think the results are worth it.
HARVEST YOUR LABOR
If you salvage your summer plants, you will get tomatoes in October instead of waiting until later in the season, and your plants will be healthier because of the strong root structure.
Don’t forget to plant some lettuce, carrots and radishes to go with those great cool season tomatoes!