It's the height of growing season, so how's your garden doing? Hopefully bugs and other creepy crawlies have bypassed your plants and Mother Nature has been showering you with just the right amount of rain. Chances are that your garden is growing so well that a bit of pruning is required. If you haven't done so already, now's a good time to refresh your pruning skills so that you can get on with the important job of pruning vegetable plants.
Pinching versus pruning
Let's clear up some terminology: Pinching is the process of using your fingers to pinch off flower buds or immature fruit. Pruning is using your fingers or pruning sheers to remove entire branches of a plant. This can be confusing because many gardeners (myself included) use their fingers to pinch off unwanted branches.
Why prune? Here are 4 reasons:
1. Prune to control the size of your plant. A plant that grows excessively large will take up more than its designated space in the garden and crowd out other plants.
2. Pruning helps train plants that you want to climb a trellis. For plants such as cucumbers that you may be training to grow up a trellis, prune to aid their upward climb.
3. Pruning improves light and air flow around the plant and thus lessens the threat of pests and disease.
4. Pruning improves the quality and size of your harvest. By cutting off growth that's not useful, the plant's energy can go to growing the best fruit.
If you're still reticent about pruning, remember that your gardening goal is to grow food, not foliage.
If you prune when the plant is young enough--not too overgrown--then you will probably only need your fingers. However, if a sturdier tool is required try a needle nose pruner or a pocket pruner.
I'm focusing on pruning vining plants and tomatoes based on my own experience. For me, these are the fruit and vegetables that benefit from pruning the most. Beans and peas, for example, can benefit from pruning, but don't need as much.
How to prune vining plants
Vining plants are those that grow their fruit from a main vine; examples are cucumbers, melons, pumpkins, and squash.
For these plants you want a single runner. That runner will produce nodes that are intersections where a tendril, fruit, leaf, and growth point will grow. When pruning you want to keep the thin, curly tendril, the fruit which emerges from the flower, and the large green leaf. You want to cut off the growth point which is a small growth that will not produce fruit.
How to prune tomato plants
Prune tomato plants when they are approximately 18 inches to two feet tall and you see yellow flowers emerging. Begin by cutting off all growth within a foot of the soil. Do this to encourage light and air circulation and thus reduce the risk of the dreaded tomato blight.
You want to cut off suckers that grow at the joint between the plant's main stem and leaves. Think of the suckers as an extra arm growing out of the plant's arm pit.
Pruning image via Shutterstock