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How To Prune Tomato Plants For Best Results

How To Prune Tomato Plants

Knowing how to prune tomato plants correctly will bring you a lot of produce over the course of six to twelve months.

Tomatoes are classified in two sections. They are determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato plants will grow, bear fruit and then wither.

Indeterminate plants will produce over a period of twelve months, sometimes more, if you prune them regularly.

The key is to successful pruning is to remove what’s known as “tomato suckers” before they branch out out and are fully developed.

So what’s a tomato sucker? They are the lifeblood of the tomato plant. In a nutshell, they are stems that grow off of your plants and produce new fruit.

But why would you want to remove tomato suckers? Well, one of the reasons is to give the existing fruit on your plant less competition for nutrients and water.

Another reason is to encourage the tomato plant to grow up and not out. In other words, you have limited space in your garden and plants compete for room. And yet another reason is if you let the suckers all grow out, the amount of fruit produced will just weigh down and harm the plant.

With tomato plants, rather than having them spread out and growing into other plants, it’s better you stake them and encourage them to grow higher.

Pruning and removing tomato suckers is key to this happening. So as they say in the classics, “get rid of them suckers”. Actually, I’m not even sure that’s a movie line.

How To Prune Tomato Plants

breaking off stemsOkay, so here’s a simple tutorial on how to prune tomato plants. By now, you’ve ascertained I grew up learning the gardening craft from my Italian immigrant parents who were undoubtedly master gardeners.

As Italians, tomatoes were a huge part of our lives. I was taught at a very early age how to prune tomato plants and the truth is, it’s not very hard to learn at all.

There are just three simple steps you need to perform to prune a tomato plant.

1. Determinate Or Indeterminate

how to prune a tomato plantDetermine whether your plant is determinate or indeterminate. I explained this above. If it’s determinate then there’s probably know need to prune it. It’s life span is short and you want it to produce the maximum amount of produce for you in it’s short life.

On the other hand, an indeterminate plant will continue to produce fruit over a long period. So removing suckers from indeterminate plants is crucial to this happening.

So is your tomato plant determinate or indeterminate?

2. Look Out Sucker!

tomato pruning tipsNext step is to look for suckers. So where do you find them?

Tomato suckers are basically found where the leaves and stems meet. When you find a small stem growing from the main stalk, that’s a sucker. Just remove it either by twisting it off or snipping it with a pruning tool.

In many cases there will be one or more growing in a section of the plant along with a much longer stem that has been allowed to grow and will soon produce fruit.

Is that all you do? Basically yes but make sure you check the plant from top to bottom.

During this phase, look carefully at the bottom of the plant and if there are excess leaves growing, just remove them.

Why would you do this? Air circulation is important to tomato plants and growing close together during peak growth periods can close up avenues for air to flow between them. This will help prevent things like fungal disease developing. So remove those leaves and give your plants a little air.

3. Avoid Cutting Off More Than You Can Afford To!

tomato pruningThis isn’t really a step but it’s important to know.

The mistake many people make is over pruning their tomato plant. You want to avoid doing this.

So far, we’ve encouraged getting rid of excess growth like suckers and leaves at the base of the plant.

The tomato plant needs leaves to continue growing so leave some on. For example, where there is a lot of leaf growth, thin them out by removing every third leaf. Just don’t leave the plant looking like a naked sheep after shearing.

If the tomato plant has a strong main stem, leaving some of the suckers on can be useful. This is something you will need to determine.

And understand that you don’t need to prune your tomato plants in one session. This should be part of your season-long maintenance routine. In other words, when you have some spare time, go and remove a sucker of two and a few leaves while keeping the base of the plant clear of obstructions.

More Tomato Maintenance Tips

what do I need for tomato pruningWhen getting rid of suckers, the best way is to pinch them off. But only do this to stems that are one to two inches long.

If you let them grow longer they toughen and then you’ll need pruners. As far as pruners are concerned, make sure they are clean before using them

It’s easy to pass on something through the use of pruning tools if they are not cleaned.

Look at it this way, these are tools you use on other varieties of produce. It’s like a surgeon at a hospital. They reuse their tools on different patients but before they do, they are sterilized.

In the same way surgeons sterilize their operating tools, you need to sterilize your pruning tools.

The easiest way is with rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes. Wash the tools off with water first, dry them and then wipe with the alcohol.

Meanwhile, as your tomato plant starts to take off “skyward” it’s going to need some staking.

A tomato plant laden with fruit unstated is eventually going to collapse under the pressure of all that weight. So stake your plant and give it some solid support.

While this sounds like a lot of work it really isn’t. By performing regular maintenance patrols among your tomato plants, each time you have to work on them will be reduced significantly.

Conclusion: How To Prune Tomato Plants

pruning techniqueYou’ll get an argument or two from people who will tell you pruning tomato plants is not necessary.

As far as determinate are concerned, they are right.

But indeterminate tomato plants will have a heavy load to carry for a long time. I feel pruning can ease some of the burden from the plant as well as encourage it to grow upwards.

As we mentioned earlier, you don’t need to remove every sucker or base leaf.

While some will say pruning is not necessary, well planned and pinpoint pruning in my opinion, will only improve fruit quality.

And that’s what you want, right? 

How To Prune A Tomato Plant
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JD Dean

Growing up on a farm gave me and my family some huge advantages. One of them was learning to grow our own food. Apart from acres and acres of crops, we had a magnificent fruit and vegetable garden plus, we canned our own food. I’m hoping to pass on some of this expertise and experience to you.

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