Can you trim squash plants

Prune Your Plants for Bigger Yields

Are your tomatoes are taking over? Basil blowing up? Squash seizing control? While it may seem counterintuitive, cutting back your plants may benefit them—and you.

There are many perks to this process known as “pruning”:

  1. Increases crop production. Pruning tells a plant to focus its energy on production rather than new growth. And when a plant focuses on production, you get more food!
  2. Encourages more compact growth. If left alone, some plants (looking at you, indeterminate tomatoes) can get out of control. Pruning yields a strong, compact plant, rather than a tall, leggy one that’s hard to manage. This also prevents one plant from overshadowing others in your Tower Garden.
  3. Reduces risk of plant disease. Many plant diseases thrive in wet environments with poor air circulation. Dense plant growth encourages such conditions, but pruning can help.

Pruning can increase crop production, encourage healthy growth, and prevent plant diseases.

How to Prune Your Tower Garden

Pruning practices vary somewhat depending on the plant. But a few best practices apply to all:

  • Use clean cutting tools. If you’ve recently used a tool to cut away diseased plant material, you don’t want to transfer the disease to another plant.
  • Leave a stub of the stem or branch. Don’t cut one branch cleanly off another.
  • Prune no more than 1/3 of the plant. Otherwise, you may actually make it less productive.
  • Regularly remove dying leaves of the lower-most mature branches. Prevent plant disease by removing older bottom leaves as they naturally begin turning yellow or brittle.

Now that you’ve got the basics, let’s dive into plant-specific pruning advice:

Pruning Tomatoes

When a tomato plant is pruned or pinched—which is when you use your thumb and forefinger instead of cutting tools to remove the soft tips of young plant stems—it produces two stems instead of one. Pruning is critical for directing and containing the growth of indeterminate tomato varieties, which keep growing (unlike determinate varieties, which stop after a certain point).

Start pruning tomatoes when the plant has 6 leaves per stem, keeping the following tips in mind:

  • Cut at the internode between the 4th and 5th leaf. At each node, a new stem will grow, producing 4 new branches. Once these branches have developed into main structural branches, you can prune again to shape your plant as needed.
  • Never cut close to the stem you want to remain. This prevents pathogens from entering the main stem of the plant.
  • Remove suckers (side shoots). Suckers are the growth that appears in the crotch between the stem and a branch. Remove them to direct your plant’s energy into the strongest fruit-bearing stems.

Pinching Basil

For herbs like basil, pruning is often considered harvesting. But whatever you call it, regularly pinching off some of the plant encourages new growth and delays bolting (i.e., the process of flowering and producing seed, which ends the growing cycle).

You can start pruning a basil plant once it has developed 6–8 pairs of true leaves. Simply pinch the stem about 1/4 inch above where the plant is branching.

Sometimes you will see new leaf growth in the axil of the stem and mature leaf—this is the future branch.

Deadheading Flowers

When it comes to flowers, pruning is better known as deadheading. To deadhead, simply cut away flowers once they’ve bloomed and begun to fade. Most flowers will respond to deadheading by producing another cycle of blooms.

Deadheading essentially prevents a flower from producing seed (which, as mentioned above, ends the plant’s growing cycle).

Thinning Other Plants

Tomatoes, basil and flowers are the plants you’ll need to prune most often. But others can benefit from an occasional pruning as well. For example, thinning squash leaves can help prevent fungal diseases like powdery mildew. And pinching off flowers can help a pepper plant focus its energy on existing fruits.

Summary and Additional Resources

Pruning is one of the easiest ways for you to increase crop production, encourage healthy growth, and prevent plant diseases.

Be sure to check out these additional resources for more information about pruning:

Questions? Leave me a comment below!

How to Trim a Zucchini Plant

Hemera Technologies/ Images

Zucchini is found in most summer vegetable gardens. Known for their large leaves, bright yellow blossoms and large green vegetables, zucchini plants do well in most environments and can be planted and harvested twice a year. The zucchini plant’s large leaves often shield it and other plants in the garden from getting sun. In addition, they can also cause crowding in the garden and prevent adequate circulation. To prevent these situations from occurring, you can trim back the zucchini leaves.

Find any leaves that are brown or dead. Use a sharp knife or pruning shears to cut the leaves’ stems. Cut them off as close to the base of the plant as possible.

Look for the largest leaves. Cut them off as close as possible to the base of the plant.

Cut the leaves until you are satisfied with the size of the plant. Do not cut all of the leaves off; allow the leaves that are closest to the fruit to remain. Leave at least half of the plant’s foliage untouched.

Quick Guide to Growing Squash

  • Plant summer squash when all chances of frost have passed; winter squash can be planted in mid-summer.
  • Give squash plants room to sprawl by planting them 3 to 6 feet apart. Grow them in an area that gets 6 or more hours of sun and has rich, well-drained soil.
  • Give your native soil a nutrient boost by mixing in several inches aged compost or other rich organic matter.
  • Squash rely on consistent moisture but avoid wetting the leaves; 1 to 1.5 inches of water weekly is best.
  • Make the most of your food growing efforts by keeping plants fed with a continuous-release plant food.
  • Feel free to harvest baby summer squash once they’re large enough to eat, or wait until they reach full size (usually 6 to 8 inches long).

Soil, Planting, and Care

Squash need plenty of sun and good drainage, and they love wrapping their roots around bits of decomposing leaves or other compost. Prepare the ground for squash by mixing in a 3-inch layer of compost. Another good option is to mix in aged compost-enriched Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose In-Ground Soil with the top few inches of native soil. Squash are usually big plants, so space plants at least 3 to 6 feet apart (follow the guidelines on the plant tag). For best growth and a big harvest, you’ll also want to provide a steady source of nutrition by feeding squash plants with a continuous-release fertilizer like Miracle-Gro® Performance Organics™ All Purpose Plant Nutrition Granules, following label directions.

A light mulch is sufficient because squash leaves are so broad and dense that mature plants minimize weeds and provide cooling shade. When setting out squash seedlings in sunny weather, you may cover them with an upside-down flowerpot or other shade cover for a couple of days after transplanting to help prevent wilting.

Squash bears both male and female flowers. The female flowers are easy to identify by looking for a tiny squash below the blossoms. Male flowers, which often begin to show up a week or two before the female flowers, sit directly on the stem. To help female flowers develop into squash, bees and other small insects pay numerous visits, leaving behind trails of pollen brought from male blossoms. Male flowers often drop to the ground at the end of their life; don’t be alarmed, as this is normal.

FDA Compliance

Successful Squash Gardening Requires the Right Conditions

If conditions permit, squash vines can yield abundance. Winter squash, if cured and stored properly, can be consumed right through the winter. Summer squash, like zucchini, can get so out of hand that your neighbors might close the blinds and lock the door when they see you coming up the walkway with an armload.

Funny Facebook Photo

We got a few chuckles out of this popular photo shared on Facebook. If you know who originated it, let us know so we can add proper tribute in the caption.

Opening day of zucchini season!

If the Conditions are Right for Good Squash

Of course, the “conditions” need to be there. If you plant right, if the plants are fed and watered right, if they survive the scourges of vine borers, squash bugs, powdery mildew, and mosaics, and if the plant is properly pollinated to produce fruits in quantity, then, you reap the bounty. Miss any of these markers and it could spell disaster, garden dystopia.

Baby lemon squash growing.

Pruning Squash

Previous newsletters have spot-lighted the squash, pumpkin, and cucumber plants we’ve been nurturing along. We’re doing pretty well in the growth category. And we’re still fending off the dreaded powdery mildew, and squash vine borer (SVB’s) with biological bacteria sprays injections and inspections.

On finding evidence of borers, we’re now carefully slicing the stem to locate the SVB larvae, dispatching the culprit, and covering the slit with dirt and mulch if the vine is on the ground. You can read more about that and other tactics at the link above.

Summer Squash

We’ve had a growing concern that there seems to be a lack of fruiting female flowers. It’s like the pollinators are not getting into all the flowers. So a new solution is being tested this past week: heavy pruning of overlapping leaves. As seen in the first photo, we have a very dense canopy of leaves. Reading up on the topic of pruning summer squash plants, we’ve learned the lush, dense coverage could harbor issues like blocking off access to flowers, promoting more fungus issues by blocking air circulation, and offering more hidden places for the bugs to lay eggs and munch out.

So, after running through some online videos and reading several articles on the topic, it made sense to us that pruning crisscrossing leaves, leaves close to the ground, and dead, diseased or dying (DDD’s) leaf material will clean up the plant and open up its growth potential. Up to 30 to 40 % of the leaves can be pruned away. We defoliated around a third.

We forgot to take a “before” photo, so here’s one from GrowVeg that shows what ours looked like before pruning.

This image from is what zucchini looks like before being pruned. This is our zucchini after pruning.

Note this radical pruning is for SUMMER SQUASH like zukes and yellow crooknecks. We’ve done this for our zucchinis and our lemon squash. Last year we lost our zucchini to both, vine borers and powdery mildew, so this year we’re doing everything we can to help these babies along.

It just makes sense to reduce the load of what the roots and vines need to feed, so we went on to prune our winter squash plants too, and they look much cleaner and happier for the effort. We’ll see if this will spruce up production a bit.

Winter Squash Plants Before Summer Pruning

Our squash vines before pruning.

The winter squash pruning wasn’t as severe since it’s still early for those crops.

Winter Squash Plants After Summer Pruning

Everything is better after pruning! 🙂

Petrichor: A Fragrance by Any Other Name

The last few weeks of June were very hot and very dry around here. So, what a delight it was to check the rain gauge after yesterday’s storms. One and a quarter inch! June’s precipitation came in about one inch below normal. There’s a word for that distinct smell of rain touching down on earth after a long, hot dry spell–”petrichor”. It’s like the fragrance of Joy!

Petrichor (/ˈpɛtrɪkɔːr/) is the earthy scent produced when rain falls on dry soil. The word is constructed from Greek πέτρα petra, meaning “stone”, and ἰχώρ īchōr, the fluid that flows in the veins of the gods in Greek mythology.

Garden Delights

Along the line of scent-sations, the garden offers up amazing facets of beauty if we take a little time to discover them. Occasionally, we’ll just grab the camera and, with the shutterbug’s point of view, go looking. Here are a few examples.

Bottom of A green striped cushaw squash plant Squash Leaf Redbud Leaf

Perhaps, next time you head out to the garden, grab your phone/camera and have some fun capturing the artistry and design that abounds there. We really dig garden selfies so please share what you capture. Also, we’re especially interested in your approach to pruning squash (summer or winter). You can post comments and/or photos up on our Facebook page, or send us an email.

May your garden flourish and your harvests be bountiful!

~ Coleman for

Keep on Growing!

G. Coleman Alderson is an entrepreneur, land manager, investor, gardener, and author of the novel, Mountain Whispers: Days Without Sun. Coleman holds an MS from Penn State where his thesis centered on horticulture, park planning, design, and maintenance. He’s a member of the Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society and a licensed building contractor for 27 years. “But nothing surpasses my 40 years of lessons from the field and garden. And in the garden, as in life, it’s always interesting because those lessons never end!” Coleman Alderson

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