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Tomato Tips

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Oh, my aching muscles...

Tips to help avoid late blight

The fungal disease late blight is a terribly destructive disease of tomatoes, potatoes and sometimes even peppers and eggplant.

The disease cycle does have a weak link, so we can take steps to prevent it: free moisture on leaves is necessary for infection.

Avoid late blight by rotating plantings, using only healthy starts and seed potatoes, never composting diseased plant material and keeping the plants dry.

Also, try these tips:

• Water the base of the plant (with soaker hose, if possible).

• Retire your tomato cages. They bunch up foliage, so it can't dry quickly. Train vines up poles and prune off side branches. Well-spaced vines allow maximum air circulation and dry fast.

• Consider building a frame and covering the plants with clear plastic to keep out rain.

Tomato Pruning

Many gardeners are confused about pruning tomatoes. There is a common belief that pruning leaves from tomato vines will allow sun to get to the fruit and ripen it faster. Research proves that just the opposite is true. The leaves produce the sugars and other nutrients that are transported to the fruit to make them size up and ripen. Direct sunlight on the fruit is not required and, in fact, it can cause sun scald on the fruit.

So what do you prune? If you are training the vines up a wire cage or up stakes, you may want to take out some of the suckers (or new secondary branches) that start between leaves and stems. This will open the plant up and provide better air circulation, which helps prevent disease. Pruning lower leaves (ones touching the ground) of staked plants can also help.

The only other pruning recommended is nipping off flowers and pea-size fruit in late summer. These don't have a chance to ripen anyway, so you want to direct the plant's energy into ripening the bigger green fruits before frost.

Tomatoes can be grown in large containers that absorb heat and encourage ripening.
Be sure to select tomato varieties that ripen in a short season, too.

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