Calling all fellow tomato enthusiasts! If you’re aiming for a bountiful tomato crop to make your taste buds dance with joy, it’s time to grab your shears and get down to business.
Left to their own devices, tomato plants grow big and bushy, with an abundance of foliage and fruit. However, unpruned plants are more prone to damage and disease, and may also produce a much smaller crop than a carefully trained plant.
We’re here to spill the secrets on how to trim those suckers just right, so you can enjoy a massive harvest that’ll have you feasting on tomato salads for many months to come.
There are various times and ways in which tomato plants can be pruned throughout the growing season, so let’s find out more!
Is Tomato Plant Pruning Always Necessary?
Before you go to town with your pruning shears, it pays to step back and decide if your tomato plants need pruning at all.
The most important point to consider is the type of tomato plant you are growing. Tomato plants are divided into two groups – determinate and indeterminate varieties.
Determinate tomato plants are often referred to as “bush” or “compact” varieties. They have a controlled growth habit and will not grow beyond a predetermined height, usually around 3 to 4 feet.
Most gardeners do not prune determinate tomato plants, as doing so has little advantage.
Indeterminate varieties, on the other hand, have a vining growth habit and can become quite tall and sprawling, sometimes reaching heights of 6 feet or more. I find it easiest to think of indeterminate tomato plants as ones that just don’t know when to stop!
Indeterminate varieties will continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the growing season until they are affected by frost or other unfavorable conditions.
Pruning indeterminate varieties can help manage their size, prevent overcrowding in limited garden space, and, most importantly, increase the size of your harvest.
But what if you don’t know what type your tomato plant is – do you still need to prune it?
In this situation, it is a good idea to apply basic pruning techniques that are beneficial for both determinate and indeterminate varieties. This includes removing suckers, thinning overcrowded foliage, and addressing any diseased or damaged branches or leaves.
What Are The Benefits Of Pruning Tomato Plants?
Sure, you could not bother pruning your tomato plants, and still most likely get a reasonable crop come harvest time. So, why go to the bother of pruning tomato plants?
The main reason is that pruning can help redirect the plant’s energy toward fruit production, resulting in larger and more abundant tomatoes. If left unchecked, tomato plants will produce an excessive amount of leaves and fewer fruits, reducing your overall crop.
Pruning can improve air circulation around the plant, reducing humidity and preventing the onset of certain fungal diseases.
If you live in an area prone to high humidity or where fungal diseases are common, such as blight or powdery mildew, pruning can be particularly beneficial to reduce the risk of infection.
Removing excess foliage can also improve sunlight penetration, leading to sweeter-flavored fruits that ripen more evenly.
And if you’re a tidy gardener or have limited space, pruning can give your tomato plants a more organized and tidy appearance. With some careful work with the pruning shears, it is possible to grow more plants in a smaller space, maximizing your overall yield.
5 Times You Should Prune Tomatoes For Huge Harvests
There are various times you can prune your tomatoes to boost fruit production, and whether you adopt one, two, or all of these methods is entirely up to you!
Even a little pruning goes a long way, but for the biggest and best harvests, it pays to keep your tomato plants carefully under control.
1. Remove The Suckers From Young Plants
When you first plant your baby tomato plants out, leave them for a week or two to settle in and get established. Then, when you see some vigorous growth, it is time to start removing the suckers.
Suckers, also known as side shoots or water shoots, are little branches that develop in the junction between the main stem and the leaf branches.
Carefully snip the suckers off at the base, either with your fingertips or a pair of scissors. This will enable the plant to focus energy and growth onto the main stem, boosting fruit production.
Removal of suckers is an ongoing process, as the plant will continue to develop them as it grows taller. I like to take the time to wander around my tomato plants once or twice a week, snapping off any developing suckers as I do so.
2. Prune The Lower Leaves From Growing Tomato Plants
As your tomato plants grow taller, the large lower leaves will start yellowing or touching the ground.
To prevent diseases and maintain good airflow, gently remove those lower leaves with pruning shears. A good rule of thumb is to remove any leaves below the first truss of fruits.
3. Limit The Number Of Stems On Your Tomato Plants
Remember those suckers we talked about earlier? Well, if left unchecked, they turn into a new stem, complete with tomatoes! When pinching out suckers it is not uncommon to miss one, and you may find that your tomato plant suddenly has more main stems than you intended.
Most tomato plants will produce a good crop from just one stem, but if you’ve ended up with two or even three, it is not a total disaster. Keep each stem carefully pruned, removing any new side shoots, and make sure to support them all as they grow taller.
If you have more than three main stems, use a set of pruning shears to cut out the weakest ones.
4. Thin Out Excess Foliage
Some tomato varieties, particularly heritage beefsteak heirloom types, grow large leaves that restrict airflow around your plants. Keep an eye out for crowded branches and leaves, and selectively prune them to allow for better airflow.
I prefer to remove any lower leaves that are crossing over each other, leaving the upper leaves to provide shade for the ripening fruit.
5. Pinch Out The Tips Of Tall Tomato Plants
You know how we said that indeterminate tomato plants just don’t know when to stop growing? If left unchecked, these vining plants will reach heights of 10 feet or more!
Whilst this is fun to observe, it is also normally very impractical for any normal garden. To keep these vigorous plants under control it is often necessary to pinch out the growing tip when the desired height is reached.
To do this, find the point at the top of the plant where new leaves and branches are produced. Cut or pinch out this soft new growth, and the plant will put its energy into growing and ripening fruit on the existing branches.
Top Tips For A Bumper Tomato Harvest
As well as some careful pruning, there are some other simple steps that will help to maximize your tomato harvest:
Staking and Training
You will need to tie up new growth on your tomato plants at regular intervals throughout the growing season.
Keep a close eye on your tomato plants and inspect them regularly for signs of disease, such as yellowing leaves or spots. Prompt removal of any affected foliage can help stop the spread of infection in its tracks.
Regular inspection also helps you identify overcrowded areas or branches that may need pruning to maintain good airflow and optimize sunlight exposure.
Feed and Water Properly
Without adequate nutrition and water, your tomato plants cannot produce a good harvest!
Use a balanced fertilizer specifically formulated for tomatoes, or apply homemade fertilizer such as compost tea. Consistent watering is essential, aiming for deep, regular watering to keep the soil evenly moist without waterlogging.
Remove Overripe or Damaged Fruits
Keep an eye on your ripening tomatoes and promptly remove any that become overripe or damaged. Overripe fruits can attract pests and diseases.
Removing them allows the plant to direct its energy toward developing new, healthy fruits.
Apply a layer of organic mulch, such as straw or wood chips, around the base of your tomato plants.
Mulching prevents the growth of weeds, as well as helps retain the soil’s moisture and regulate its temperature; these will create an ideal environment for healthy tomato plants.
Remember, tomato pruning is not a one-size-fits-all approach. Different varieties may require specific pruning techniques, so it’s always a good idea to check out the specific needs of your tomato plants. With proper pruning, care, and a little gardening love, you’ll be well on your way to a fantastic tomato harvest!