When to ‘stop off’ tomatoes: Simple step to secure a ‘good crop’ of tomatoes next summer

Gardeners' World: Monty Don explains how to harvest tomatoes

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Growing tomatoes at home is beneficial not just for the tasty red fruits, but also for the bright green foliage and delicate yellow flowers which grow vigorously from the stems. While the fast-growing nature of tomatoes is what makes them so easy to raise successfully, the fruits will fail to return each year unless you “stop off” the plant. According to one expert, this simple step is crucial if you want to get a “good crop” each summer, and it’s almost time to start doing it.

Tomatoes are naturally vigorous growers which can quickly cause them to grow out of control without proper pruning.

If left unchecked, tomato plants will be covered in side shoots and leaves, with very little in the way of flowers or fruits.

According to The Sunday Gardener, this is the very reason why we have to take steps to stop them growing and “constrain” the plant when necessary.

When to “stop off” tomatoes

Greenhouse-grown tomatoes should be ripe by mid-summer while outdoor varieties will be ready later in the summer, depending on where you are in the UK.

While there may be a few weeks difference between the ripening of the fruits, late August to September is generally the peak period to make a start on ending the growing season for your tomato plants.

This is when you can “stop off” your crops by pinching out the growing tips at the top of the plant.

According to The Sunday Gardener, this stops the plant from growing up any further to limit the amount of energy spent on trying to produce new side shoots, leaves or fruit.

It is crucial to do this in the final weeks of summer as this is when the plant is still energised, and ready to produce fresh growth.

Without interference, this energy goes to waste as there is not enough time for the plant to grow before the chilly autumn weather arrives.

By pinching out the top shoots, the energy is redirected to existing fruits on the plant, which encourages them to grow bigger, juicer, and ripen more quickly.

Stopping tomatoes is very easy to do using either your hands or a pair of sharp secateurs.

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To ensure your pinching-out is accurate, it is advisable to use the flowers on the plant as a guide.

The Sunday Gardener said: “Stop off at the top of the plant when there are three to four (outside grown) or four to five (greenhouse-grown) trusses, which are layers of flowers.

“The exact timing of when to stop the plant growth depends on when it has set enough trusses, which depends on growing conditions.”

Pinching out will need to be done continually as the plant will “strive to keep growing” even after one round, according to The Sunday Gardener.

It is especially important to repeat the process on indoor tomatoes as they will continue to grow as high as the ceiling if left un-stopped.

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