Pruning, Thinning, and Preparing Produce Plants

Thinning out seeds and seedlings used to make me sad.

I mean, those seeds worked hard to germinate and pop out of the ground, ready to eat up delicious sunlight with all of their seedling buddies. It almost hurt to pull up the little plants to make way for the stronger plants (or just a single plant in a particular plot of space). How was I supposed to choose what lives and what dies?

Fast forward out of that nonsense to today. A few years of container plants (and growing patches of plants in my childhood home), as well as this past year of homestead implementation have shown me the light: pruning, spacing, and thinning plants are tasks just as essential as watering, weeding, and harvesting at the right time for healthy, happy fruits and veggies.

If you’re just starting your garden, or wondering why, perhaps, your garden vegetables aren’t doing as well as they could, and you’re leaving out other factors such as unpredictable weather, general neglect (water your plants, y’all), and animals feasting on what would be your future feast, consider your spacing, and whether or not you’re allowing your plants to flourish in the space they need.

Spacing and Preparing Seeds and Seedlings

Yes, those directions on seed packets as far as depth and spacing are important – they’re not just there for show. Different seeds need different depths, soil conditions, spacing, and preparation beforehand. I’m learning a lot this year about different seeds, as we’re attempting a larger variety of plants this year. Some seeds even need to be soaked and refrigerated for weeks at a time to germinate!

So, firstly, follow any directions you get for seeds. I also like following the guidelines from the Old Farmer’s Almanac, as well as local guides as far as climate and frost dates.

Secondly, avoid the temptation to crowd as many seedlings as you can into a container or small garden. I know, because I’ve done it – I want all of the plants!! But you’re not doing them a favor – you’re crowding out their space for root growth, as well as room to spread leaves, grow blooms, and eventually fruit. You won’t get anything come summer or fall if you’ve tried to fit five tomato plants in a space meant for one or two.

Thirdly, plant at the right time, which is probably later than you think you need to. Check your local average first and last frost dates, and keep checking the weather. (We’re forecasted to get a freeze this upcoming weekend, which is NUTS – thank goodness we’ve waited to put anything frost-intolerant into the ground!) You can always bring containers inside, too.

Pruning and Preparing Fruit-Bearing Plants

Now for the real inspiration behind this post – the incredible growth that’s occurred between last year and this year regarding our berry brambles. For reference, here are the raspberries, blueberries, and blackberries from last year:

This was at the beginning of summer (June), when the weather’s nice and hot, and we’d planted some bare-root specimens earlier in the year. They’re about a foot, maybe two feet high, for reference. Any guide worth its salt tells you to pluck the blooms off of berry brambles (e.g., blackberries, raspberries, and the like) for the first year, and off of blueberry bushes for the first three to five years.

I won’t deny that this is the last thing I want to do to my poor berry plants. I want flowers and berries, and I want them now!

But doing this ensures growth of other parts of the plant, such as roots, leaves, and branches for future berries, that are super important to get in that first year (and subsequent years). Berries often grow on the previous year’s wood, so if you haven’t allowed the brambles to grow enough, you won’t get but a few measly berries (if any), and stunted plants.

So, I heeded this advice last year, plucking probably between 20-30 blooms from our brambles the entire growing season, and hoping that it would be worth it. The plants stayed about the same height, maybe growing a few inches throughout the summer, and went dormant for the winter.

Fast forward to now. Our raspberry and blackberry brambles are insane. I can’t even count the number of blooms and buds on each one:

These buggers have creepers that are 5-6 feet long (and growing!), and are trellised about two feet off the ground. When the farmer tells you to pluck the flowers, pluck the flowers. We’re hoping these turn into some seriously tasty berries in the summer months.

Same goes for fruit trees: husband and I spent a good hour or so last weekend just plucking little peach growths from our newly-pruned tree. Already, from cutting excess branches and allowing the tree to spread out without tangling into its own branches, we’re noticing a good deal more fruit this year. Last year’s peaches were tasty, but never got any bigger than golf ball size. We’re hoping that careful pruning and thinning will allow for more, bigger, and reachable peaches.

So, if you’re needing anecdotal evidence to show that yes, you do need to space, prune, pluck, and thin your plants for good production, this is it. Do it. Try it. It’s working so far! And as always, I’ll keep you in the loop for how well these buggers continue to grow. They’ll likely be getting a warm blanket of sorts this weekend.

Until then, happy planting!

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