Pruning Overgrown Leaves in Our Garden

We've been blessed with a growing problem in our organic family garden.  Most of the plants are flourishing so well that we need to be more proactive about pruning. 

Why Prune in the Garden:
To allow air flow
To prevent fungus or bacteria from moving in
To discourage pests
To allow plants to focus on growing food instead of leaves
To ensure space for all of the plants and their fruits

I don't like the thought of cutting or killing a plant, so I needed expert advice to motivate me for this project.  Thanks to Anne Hillson, Agricultural Program Director at Sow True Seed in Asheville, North Carolina.  She walked me through the steps to take.

Challenge:  Overgrown, Crowded Pumpkin Plants
Crowded Sweet Sugar Pumpkin Plants


More Space After Removing One Plant
And Pruning The Rest


When I explained that I thought I'd spaced the Sweet Sugar pumpkins adequately, at about a foot apart, Hillson replied that the spacing works for traditional rows, while a bit more space might be needed in the raised square where I'm working.  Hillson said I can't just move some plants at this point and expect them to live. “DON'T transplant!" Hillson exclaimed.  "Cucurbits are very cranky about having their roots disturbed. Instead, you could prune the leaves a bit.”  She said I shouldn't overprune the leaves, either because that could risk sunscald on the fruit.  While I may have planted them purposely too close together, I also missed one or two plants that I should have cut out earlier when two seeds grew from the same hole.  So, after talking with Hillson, I've agreed to cut out at least one plant and prune the leaves on some others that seem too crowded, in an effort to save them.  I realize that if I crowd them all, none will produce well enough.  

Challenge:  Overzealous Squash Plants
Large Squash Leaves
Crowding Tomato Plants
I appreciate that the two heirloom squash varieties I'm growing stay fairly compact and vertical, some of their leaves are getting enormous and may be creating too much shade in the garden beds.  They're also crowding the tomato plants I alternated with them.  Hillson reassured me that I could cut off a few of the extra leaves with a utility scissors or a garden knife without stunting the squash.

Challenge:  Vigorous, Leafy Heirloom Tomato Plants
Thanks to my husband, many of the tiny suckers have been pinched off as the tomato plants were growing larger.  And he makes sure they're well supported.  However, we really didn't do any other distinctive pruning.  Hillson explained that gardeners vary widely on their tomato pruning methods and that we could explore which one works for us.  At this point, I admit to still feeling a big overwhelmed about the tomato pruning. However, I caught onto this basic idea that we've been overlooking -- I should at least trim the lower leaves so that no leaves are touching the ground.  Lower leaves make the plant more susceptible to blight and pest problems.  So, as a beginner organic gardener, this may be all of the tomato pruning I do for this season.
Next Day After Pruning
The First Pumpkin Blossom

Next Weekend:  Learning more about garden pest management (without the most toxic chemicals) and ready for harvest time!