Gardeners can redirect tomato plants into finishing what they already started.

By Kate Russell

Kate Russell

This year is certainly one for the record books when it comes to oddities, and it’s not just the human world being affected.

While the summer growing season may be winding down in Morgan Hill, fluctuating temperature extremes, smoke-filled skies, and who knows what all have caused many garden plants to behave strangely this year. For one thing, several types of plants took a lot longer than normal to get started. And now some plants are acting as though the growing season has just begun.

Our early heat wave, followed by a cold snap, and then scorching summer temperatures caused many plants to be confused about the seasons. Plant hormones often respond to seasonal temperatures. Those hormones trigger specific processes. Some of those processes can be halted while others cannot. Poor air quality probably didn’t help.

Instead of following their normal progression of leaf and stem growth, followed by flowering and fruiting, many garden plants struggled early on this year to figure which task they should be performing.

Many gardeners found that their pepper and tomato plants took longer to get bushy, eggplants were late to bloom, and squash plants started their growing season all over again. This late in the season, many tomato plants are putting out new blossoms.

As much as Morgan Hill gardeners would appreciate more crookneck squash, zucchinis, and tomatoes, they now face a problem.

Weakened (or confused) plants are more susceptible to pests and diseases. Time is in the enemy’s favor. Powdery mildew, leafminers, harlequin bugs, squash bugs, striped and spotted cucumber beetles, thrips, and aphids are in full force. They’ve already had plenty of time to take hold and spread. So, what is a gardener to do?

One solution is to remove older leaves and lift plants skyward with tomato cages.

Removing older leaves often interrupts pest life-cycles and reduces the chance of disease spreading to new growth. Lifting leaves and fruit off of the soil eliminates one point of pest entry. It also improves airflow around the plants, reducing the chance of fungal disease.

And those yellow flowers on your tomato plants? Take them off. They may be pretty, but there simply isn’t enough time in the growing season for them to be pollinated and produce fruit with any flavor.

Instead of allowing plants to spread themselves too thinly, gardeners can redirect tomato plants into finishing what they already started.

Remove new blossoms and pinch stems back to just above existing fruit. This will get your tomato plants focused on putting flavor and color into the tomatoes they already have.

While you are out in the garden, take a moment to check for newly emerging pests. You can wipe eggs off leaves before they get a chance to hatch, preparing the way for a better year next year.

Kate Russell
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