Topping and Training for Higher Yields

When plants receive the basics they need for survival, you can produce a harvest. But if your growing goals transcend baseline results, training techniques such as topping can help you push your plants to their full potential. By understanding how training and topping works, you can train your way to maximum yields:

Training with grid-like cages starts when plant branches are still young and pliable.

What do training and topping mean?

Training can refer to any intervention that alters or influences a plant's natural growth habit to get a desired result. The horticultural world is full of examples, from tomatoes supported by grid-like cages to espaliered fruit trees grown flat against a wall. While training techniques can deliver interesting aesthetics, there's usually a bigger goal in mind. By directing and controlling your plant's growth, you can create a healthier growing environment and encourage better harvests.

Topping is a training technique specifically designed to change the plant's natural growth habit and increase plant yields. Plants naturally direct their energy into the growing tip at the top of the plant's center stalk. When plants are topped, that growing point is removed by pruning. In response, the plant redirects growth hormones throughout the plant. Vertical growth slows, but lateral growth increases. The result is a bushier plant prepared for heavier flowering and fruiting throughout.

Topping removes the plant's central growing tip during the early vegetative stage.

How do topping and training benefit plants?

Topping's main benefit is increased lateral growth that sets your plants up for higher yields. Fueled by redirected growth hormones, lateral branches rush to catch up with vertical growth. As side branches grow, branches that would have been shaded receive more light. Instead of small or insignificant flowers and fruit, larger and higher-quality flowers and fruits are possible throughout the bushier plant — maximizing your use of garden space.

Directing new growth through training opens your plant canopy to improve productivity even more. Improved airflow through the plant helps eliminate pockets of humidity and moisture to discourage fungal diseases. Scouting for insect pests is easier when pests have fewer hiding spots. Light can penetrate your garden's inner canopy to fuel photosynthesis and trigger beneficial growth from top to bottom. Flowers and fruits may ripen faster, too.

 Training encourages more flower and fruit production throughout the plant.

When should plants be topped and trained?

Topping coincides with the vegetative stage, when young plants launch into aggressive leaf and stem growth. Most growers wait until the plant has six or seven leaf nodes along a sturdy stem. Then the central growing stalk is pruned back to remove the entire central growing tip. Done properly, topping shouldn't shock strong, healthy, well-settled plants.

Additional training starts along with topping or even earlier and continues through the life of the plant. When training with grid-like cages or netting to separate and support branches, the earlier the better. Young branches are more pliable and trainable — and less likely to break. Training supports such as trellises, stakes and cages can be placed before young plants grow extensive roots or lateral branching becomes dense.

Topping your plant's primary growing point only needs to be done once. However, some growers "top" lateral branches later in the vegetative cycle. Many tomato growers also do a final topping as season's end approaches. This removes new flowers and focuses plant energy on finishing and ripening existing fruit.

 Complementary nutrition maximizes training efforts and harvests.

How can feeding improve training results?

Topping is timed to ensure energy isn't wasted as plants move through the stages of plant growth. When nutrients complement growth stages, they help optimize the benefits of topping and training. A complete nutrient system such as Earth Juice Sugar Peak takes plants through every growth phase:

You can also boost results along the way with specialized nutrients such as high-nitrogen Earth Juice Elements Grow 16-0-0 for aggressive vegetative growth and high-phosphorus Earth Juice Elements Bloom 0-16-16 for budding and flowering. Super-concentrated Earth Juice Bloom Master 0-50-30 in the flowering stage boosts buds and blooms and enhances essential oil, resin and fragrance production.

Some plants, including tomatoes and peppers, are prone to calcium and magnesium deficiencies and blossom end rot. With Earth Juice Elements Cal-N-Mag Plant Food 3-0-0, you can help prevent or treat those nutrient deficiencies while delivering essential nitrogen. Zero-nitrogen Earth Juice OilyCann provides calcium, magnesium and humic acid to help treat and prevent deficiencies, but keep plants focused on flowers and fruit.

By topping and training, you can position your plants for better growth, performance and productivity. With Earth Juice, you help ensure your nutrient program enhances every stage of growth. For 30 years, growers and gardeners have trusted our advice and our products. Let Earth Juice give your fruits and vegetables the best nutrients and help you exceed expectations.

Always read product labels thoroughly and follow instructions, including dilution rates and recommended feeding frequency for your plant phase and feeding method.