Doing what’s best for new fruits, veggies can be tough

By 
Erin Schanen

One of the hardest jobs in the garden is doing what’s best for our plants, and right now that means plucking the flowers off newly planted fruits and vegetables.

It is a task that even a gardener like me who strives to remember that plants don’t have feelings can struggle with because we know those flowers mean fruit. But by removing the first flowers you’re letting the plant put its precious energy into creating roots and then top growth, which will allow it to produce better in the future.

Just how long you have to prevent a plant from setting fruit depends on the plant and its life cycle. It’s recommended, for instance, that you remove any fruit that forms on first-year fruit trees (it’s fine to enjoy the flowers, which may serve as pollinating partners for other fruit trees) so the tree saves the energy it would put into producing and ripening that fruit.

But if you bought a tomato plant with flowers, it’s a delicate dance in terms of removing them, because our season is pretty short to begin with. I do think it’s best to remove the flowers on any tomatoes that have them at planting time, which is right about now, but after that I let them go because an early season tomato is a treat to be savored. Plus, if you’re like me you grow plenty of tomato plants, so getting a little selfish with a couple of them is perfectly fine.

I’ve been plucking the dainty white bell flowers off the two blueberries I planted in containers earlier this spring. As much as I’d love to see a blueberry this year, it’s an easy decision as the plants, which are small varieties perfect for containers, came bare root and are very small.

It’s a more difficult decision for the strawberries, however. These short-lived perennials fall into three categories: June-bearing, with one big harvest in mid to late-June; everbearing, which produce a sizable early crop, then take a break during the hottest part of the summer and produce a trickle of berries later; and day neutral, which produce berries consistently throughout summer.

For those of us who just like snacking on fresh berries rather than having a big harvest to preserve in one fell swoop, the day neutral varieties are compelling. So compelling, in fact, that I planted 50 of the Seascape variety, which produces large, flavorful berries, in the ground and in containers this year. It’s best to grow them as annuals since they are margainly hardy, so I packed them in, but now they are producing little white flowers, all of which I should pluck off until late June, about six weeks after I planted them as bare roots for pennies per plant. If I had planted June-bearing I would have to pluck all the flowers off this year, a directive that seems almost unbearable.

If you’ve noticed a few qualifying words here, it’s because this is advice I preach but don’t always practice. I just don’t have that kind of willpower. A few berries here, an apple there can’t hurt a young plant that much, can it? Because gardeners deserve a little reward, and sometimes that means the plant has to do the sacrificing.

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