Extension agents are going the extra mile to educate homeowners about a simple gardening practice that could result in larger tomatoes this summer, experts say.

Amanda McWhirt, horticulture extension specialist-fruits and nuts for the University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture Cooperative Extension Service, is co-coordinating this statewide effort.

Hank Chaney, associate director of agriculture and natural resources for the Division of Agriculture, and Jackie Lee, horticulture extension specialist for the Division of Agriculture, are helping McWhirt with this project.

McWhirt said the purpose of the demonstrations is to explain the difference between pruned and unpruned tomato plants.

“We hope the public will get to see what effect pruning tomato plants has on the number and size of tomatoes produced by a pruned plant versus an unpruned plant,” she said. “Research has shown that pruning tomato plants typically results in bigger tomatoes, but a smaller number of tomatoes per plant.”

Since tomatoes are a fan-favorite of gardeners, the in-house demonstrations are beneficial for participants, McWhirt said.

“Everyone loves to grow backyard tomatoes,” she said. “These demonstrations are primarily housed in people’s gardens or fields, not on state property.”

McWhirt also said she believes that this is a good opportunity for county extension agents to reach out to the public and show how much the Cooperative Extension Service cares.

“I think this is a nice example to show how hands-on our county agents are,” she said. “Also it demonstrates how extension relays research based information to people across the state by showing not just telling.”

The demonstrations include a weekly visit from a local county extension agent.

“County agents will be visiting their collaborator weekly to advise them on pruning, fertilizing and caring for the tomato crop,” McWhirt said.

Jennifer Caraway, Miller county extension agent, is one of the agents taking part in this endeavor.

Caraway said that the one-on-one communication is an effective teaching method.

“By using in person, hands-on demonstration purposes, clientele and cooperators more readily understand the process and are able to apply the techniques while there to better hone in their skills,” she said.

Caraway will assist homeowners in Miller County with their backyard beauties.

“We will teach cooperators how to properly prune an indeterminate tomato,” she said.

Extension agents across the state are teaching important, yet simple concepts that could change the way Arkansas gardeners grow their tomatoes.

For more information about tomatoes and gardening methods, contact a local county extension agent or visit www.uaex.edu.

The University of Arkansas System Division of Agriculture offers all its Extension and Research programs to all eligible persons without discrimination.

— Jessica Wesson is with the U of A System Division of Agriculture.