Hartley Magazine

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Guiding greenhouse plants on their way

Pruning out the tips of melon plants to encourage bushy growth

After the shock of the mid May frost put all of my gardening plans temporarily on hold, the warming weather has meant that the greenhouse is now fully planted up and romping away. The task now is to give some of the plants a little attention and pinching out to direct their energies the right way, and that’s what I’ll been doing over the next week.

Doing without our allotment and polytunnel for the second year, and with this spring’s food shortages fresh in our minds, our idea is to try to cram as much into the garden beds, greenhouse and mini greenhouse as we would have into the plot, and so far it is looking like being a success. The undercover stuff is the real challenge as the polytunnel gave us so much space to play with, but I am proud to say that we now have seven tomatoes, six peppers, six melons, two aubergines and four pots of basil growing away in the greenhouse and a further four tomato plants and two aubergines in the mini greenhouse, which has been converted into a little tomato house by removing all of its shelving. This is easily as much as we ever fitted into the polytunnel, so we are winning. And the beauty of it is that it is right here, so being watered plenty and tended carefully, on a daily rather than bi-weekly basis.

And so to the tending. At this moment you can make a few well placed nips and tucks that will make a big difference to the plants’ eventual productivity. Melons first. They tend to romp away, producing a long vine, given the chance. This is a good moment to encourage them to grow bushier, and to instead make several off shoots that you can then train and which will each produce fruits. Count five leaves up the main stem and snip off the growth just above the top one. This will direct energies further down the stem into those side shoots. The strongest four side shoots should be kept and encouraged to grow up supports: we have set up a system of wires above them to train them in as they grow long enough. The rest should be nipped out, as it’s important to allow these plants to concentrate their energies on fully ripening a few fruits rather than let them grow on endlessly in the hope of a great many. The season is only so long, even though it doesn’t feel like that this year, and those September days when you can see you are only a couple of weeks away from fully ripened fruits but the sun and heat are failing are frustrating.

In the same vein it is time to concentrate your tomatoes energies by pinching out. Cordon tomatoes naturally grow tall, but as they grow tiny shoot will appear from between the leaf joints. If left unattended these will quickly turn into monster side shoots to rival the main stem. In an amazing year in perfect weather it is possible that you could have enough heat, light and time to ripen two main stems’ worth of tomatoes on each plant, but it’s unlikely, and much better to concentrate the plant’s energies on one. Look over the plant carefully checking for side shoots and snip or pinch them out. If you haven’t done this yet and if your plants are getting big it is possible that they may look like main stems so follow the stem up from the base to check, and be prepared to be ruthless. Your crops will thank you for it in September.