Pruning a tomato plant is a completely optional practice, but it could yield a much more hefty harvest for your garden.
It is important to note that pruning should only be done to indeterminate varieties of tomatoes.
An indeterminate tomato plant, or vining tomato plant, is one that produces and ripens fruit consistently throughout the season. In contrast, a determinate tomato plant, sometimes referred to as “bush tomatoes”, produce and ripen the entire crop all at once.
*Note: Wait until your tomatoes are in the ground for a few weeks before pruning them.
Why prune your indeterminate tomatoes?
Pruning, if nothing else, is simply a way to tidy up your plants and and keep them from sprawling all over your garden. While your large and sprawling tomato plants may indeed produce more fruit, most of them will be so shaded by unruly foliage that they will not fully ripen in a timely manner-if you have had problems with slow-ripening tomatoes, pruning might be the answer!
As gardeners, we want our tomato plants to turn their attention to actual tomato production instead of showing off how big and bushy they can get. Proper pruning eliminates those energy “suckers” and refocuses your plants energy.
Finally, pruning thins out the foliage that will eventually crowd your plant, increasing the airflow through the plant, which can help with disease issues.
How to prune your indeterminate tomatoes…
To begin, identify the different parts of the tomato plant.
Identify the main stem coming out of the ground and follow it all the way up to the top growing tip of the plant.
This top end is the main growing point of the plant where it continually gets taller. You do not want to cut this off during this pruning process.
Next, look for the fruit clusters (tomatoes already forming) and flower clusters (groups of yellow flowers).
Identify the sun leaves – they’re connected to the main stem throughout the plant (where a leaf is coming out of the main stem).
Between the main stem and the leaf might be another part that usually shoots fairly straight up if it’s larger, or grows at a 45 degree angle and looks like a little leaf if it’s small. This is called a sucker.
The sucker will grow to have its own leaves, flowers, fruits, and suckers. It’s basically like a whole new tomato plant growing out of the original plant. We’re going to be pruning most of them off so we can direct energy to the ripening on the main stem!
In order to prune those suckers off the main stem, all you need to do is pinch it off with your fingers, or, if its a large sucker you can use a pair of sharp garden pruning scissors (like these!) so you do not harm the plant.
Now, we don’t need to remove ALL of the suckers from our plant. It’s okay to keep 2-4 suckers as they will help your plant produce more fruit. As a rule of thumb, it is good to keep the sucker growing beneath the lowest fruit or flower cluster on your main stem because so much energy is being sent to that part of the plant to grow the fruit that’s directly above it.
Now you know how to effectively prune your tomato plants! Over the next few weeks, you can routinely check in on your plant and see if any more suckers have appeared and repeat this process!
Extra Tomato Tips:
Never work with your plants when they are wet. This will spread around any present diseases.
Mulch your tomato plants! This will keep weeds and soil born diseases at bay and keep the moisture locked inside the plant.
Tomatoes can get sun burn just like humans. Try to be mindful of removing too much foliage. A little bit of shade isn’t a bad thing!
When you’re done pruning off the suckers you do not want, you can remove the leaves growing at the ground level of your plant. Many diseases live in the soil and can spread up the plant from the leaves that are touching it, so it is best to remove them right when the appear!
*If your plant is not already trellised or installed inside a cage, now is the time to do so! The taller the better for our indeterminate tomato plants.
Tomatoes are tough! Don’t be worried you are causing too much damage during the pruning process. As long as you don’t cut off the main stem, your plant will be okay!