At last! The growing season is here! Although we had an extra early start for cold hardy crops like lettuce, spinach, peas, carrots, onions and more, the safe time to put out tender annuals like tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, squash and cucumbers started about the first of May for most of us here in Fairpark Community.
I wanted to focus on a simple practice that increases the size and yield of some of our garden plants. If you are a gardener in this area you probably grow a lot of tomatoes, peppers and eggplant. These three types of plants, which each have an enormous range of varieties, along with a lots of other agricultural plants including potato and tobacco, are all in the large plant family of Solanaceae or the Nightshade family. The practice that helps speed growth and increase yields consists of removing the side branches that form above each leaf. Not on the whole plant or all season long, but during the first month to six weeks it is a good idea to remove any branches from the stem as they form.
For tomato plants, it helps to keep the plant branch free for the first 18 to 24 inches of stem, and allow the plant to keep the branches above that. For peppers it is 6 to 18 inches depending on the variety. For eggplant keeping the plant branch free to a height of 12 to 18 inches seems about right.
It is easy to do. Don’t mistake your leaves for branches, the branches always grow from the main stem directly above where the leaf grows from the stem. They take a few weeks to appear when the plants are small, but as the plants start growing faster they can appear and be ready to remove within a day or two. It works to just check once a week, removing those branches that are big enough to pinch off, until the plants are large and tall enough to let the branches grow.
Besides making the plant grow larger and produce more food, it also helps keep the food from touching the ground.
It was explained to me that the main stem growing tip of the plant grows faster when the side branches are removed due to it changing the hormone balance of the plant. Side branches produce a hormone that inhibits the main tip, while the main tip produces hormones that inhibit the side branches. That’s why when you pinch back the tips of your basil plants the lower side branches get a growth spurt. With the food producing plants it is best to favor the growing tip for the first month to 6 weeks of being in the garden.