Pruning tomatoes has been a controversial topic for a very long time. The truth is, if you choose not to prune your tomatoes, it won’t cause any serious problems. I know of plenty of people who grow healthy, nutritious tomatoes without ever pruning them. Tomatoes do not require pruning to survive and bear fruit, but pruning definitely improves your harvest yield and fruit quality.
More energy will be directed to the shoots and leaves of the tomato plant, causing it to yield smaller harvests and smaller fruit. Tomato plants are more susceptible to pests, diseases, and flea beetles if left unpruned. Indeterminable tomato plants may need serious support if left unpruned.
Some gardeners swear by pruning, and others are adamantly against it. The somewhat hot topic of pruning tomato plants will be discussed below.
Why Should You Prune Your Tomato Plant?
Pruning is an essential skill to have for any gardener. Simply put, pruning is the removal of certain stems of the main plant. Pruning tomatoes might not be essential, but it definitely is beneficial!
If the unnecessary leaves and shoots are cut off from the tomato plant’s main stem, they will save the plant a lot of energy. Therefore, the tomato plant can exhort its energy towards flowering purposes, increasing the yield of your tomato plant.
When a tomato plant is pruned correctly, it allows all of the foliage to receive adequate sunlight. As a result, the plant can also photosynthesize more efficiently, boosting the tomato plants’ growth and fruit production.
Pruning your tomato plants also protects them from pest and disease problems.
If your tomato plants aren’t pruned, the plant distributes its energy toward growing unnecessary leaves and shoots. Although these shoots will eventually grow into stems yielding flowers and fruits, the production of your tomato plant will ultimately be stunted.
However, it is essential to note that there are two main tomato plant categories. Pruning the tomato plant isn’t always an issue when dealing with a determinable plant. But, lack of pruning causes an indeterminable plant to become extremely heavy and dense with overgrowth.
It’s important to identify which plant you are growing as the pruning methods differ for each variety. Let’s briefly discuss how to identify the difference between a determinable tomato plant and an indeterminable tomato plant.
Determinable Tomato Plant
Determinable tomato plants are seasonal plants with a short growing period. They only reach a determined height of approximately 5 to 6 feet tall and stop growing once they begin to flower.
Determinable tomato plants have a small bush-like appearance. Determinable plants do not take up too much space and are ideal for growing in small spaced areas or pots.
Due to the determinable tomato plants small nature and tendency to bear all their fruit simultaneously, pruning is not essential. Pruning or removing the lower leaves on the lower stem is sufficient.
A list of several determinable tomato plants:
- Ace 55
- Better Bush
- Heinz Classic
- Mountain Pride
Indeterminable Tomato Plant
Indeterminable tomato plants are year-round plants. They are ideal for larger and spacious gardens.
Indeterminable plants have a vine-like appearance and grow up to 11 feet tall. Their shoots continue to grow through flowering, contrary to the determinable tomato plant.
Due to their continuous growing nature, indeterminable tomato plants need pruning for maximum yield. Pruning indeterminable tomato plants encourages the plant to produce large tomatoes instead of an abundance of foliage and small tomatoes.
If you aren’t concerned about the tomato fruit sizes, you do not worry about pruning the plants.
A list of several indeterminable tomato plants:
- Big Boy
- Beef Master
- Black Prince
- German Queen
- Most cherry tomato varieties
- Most heirloom varieties
What Will Happen if I Don’t Prune My Tomato Plant?
Determinable tomato plants do not require a lot of pruning and will likely thrive without any pruning at all. However, the indeterminable tomato plant will also more than likely continue to produce tomatoes if you choose not to prune them, but they may develop several issues.
- More energy is directed and distributed to the plant’s shoots and unnecessary leaves, causing a smaller yield of fruit and smaller fruit.
- Indeterminable tomato plants are vines; these plants will crawl and sprawl everywhere if not appropriately maintained.
- If indeterminable tomato plants are left unpruned, they may need serious support.
- If you do not cut the unnecessary leaves of the tomato plant, some leaves may not get adequate sunlight, and proper air circulation will not occur.
- Leaving your tomato plants unpruned may cause excess moisture, making your unpruned tomato plants more susceptible to diseases.
- Indeterminable plants that aren’t staked or pruned will shoot their roots all over the ground, taking over the rest of your vegetable garden.
- Harvesting fruit is a lot more complicated if your tomato plants aren’t pruned or staked.
- If the bottom of your plant is not pruned, it becomes more susceptible to flea beetles.
What happens if I don’t stake my tomato plants?
When Should I Prune Tomato Plants?
You want to start pruning tomato plants when they are approximately 1 to 2 feet tall. At this stage, your tomato plant should have a couple of shoots growing from the main stem. If they are smaller than this, the plant may not recover from the shock of being pruned.
To avoid the plant from being infected, it’s best to prune it early in the morning and on a dry day. Pruning in the morning will allow the plant to dry out and heal during the day.
Remove the growing tip off of each main stem of an indeterminate tomato plant about four weeks before the first frost. Removing the tips before frost will signal the plant to stop flowering and rather to finish ripening all the fruit already growing on the vine.
If it’s too late and your tomato plants are already large and wild, there is no need to worry! Remove all of the plants leaves about 12 to 18 inches off the ground and lower.
Other factors like yellowing leaves and looking for flowers will be discussed later on.
How Should I Prune Tomato Plants?
The ultimate goal we want to achieve when growing tomatoes is to help the plant yield as much ripe fruit as possible. If you’re growing indeterminate varieties, pruning your plants ensures that all the energy and nutrients are going to the tomato fruits. If you’re growing a determinate variety, too much pruning is counterproductive.
Here’s how to prune your tomato plants:
Step 1: Determine your tomato plant variety
Determine whether you’re growing an indeterminate or determinate variety of tomato plants before you make any cuts.
- Indeterminate varieties grow like vines. Therefore, they must be pruned and trained upright on poles to grow correctly.
- Determinate are bush-like varieties. These plants naturally direct their energy toward fruiting without needing as much intervention.
Step 2: Check for signs of yellowing
Wait for the plant’s stems and leaves below the first set of flowers of the tomato plant to turn yellow. Once you notice this yellow color change, you can start pruning.
Step 3: Look for flowers
As soon as there are flowers on the tomato plant, you can start pruning your tomato plants. The tomato plant should be between 12 and 18 inches tall.
Step 4: Remove Suckers
Suckers are the tiny new branches that sprout where a branch meets the stem on a determinable plant and an indeterminate plant. The tomato plant’s suckers “suck” energy from the rest of the tomato plant. While they may cause the plant to bear more fruits, the tomatoes tend to be smaller. Pruning suckers create a better airflow for the plant. It also protects the plant against potential diseases and viruses
Note that it is best to leave the thicker shoots or suckers. Snapping off a thicker sucker may damage the whole plant.
A rule of thumb- if the sucker is thicker than a pencil, only pinch the tip of the sucker off, leaving one or two leaves behind. Also, only pinching off the tip reduces the shock to the plant and prevents diseased wounds.
How to Remove a Sucker?
To remove a sucker, grab the growing tip at the base between your thumb and forefinger and bend the sucker back and forth until it snaps cleanly. It is ideal to do this while the shoot is young and supple. The small wound will heal quickly.
Remove suckers all summer long; they grow quickly and may need to be pruned weekly.
Strategically removing suckers will allow your plant to bear large fruit all season long. This is called “simple pruning.”
Step 5: Remove excess leaves
Leaves are important to protect your plant and to provide shade to the ground. Wait for the leaves to turn yellow, and then remove all the leaves below the first cluster of flowers. Yellow leaves require more sugar than the plant can provide, so they start to discolor and wilt. Pulling them off will help ward off diseases.
Removing the leaves can be done for determinable and indeterminable tomato plants. In addition, removing the excess leaves will help the plant grow a sturdy stem, keeping the tomato plant strong.
Removing the excess leaves below the flower clusters also ensures that the majority of nutrients are directed to the fruit of the plant.
However, do not cut off the plant leaves that surround the actual fruit. These leaves provide necessary sugar to the fruit and plant, so it’s best to leave them where they are.
Step 6: Remove an inch off all but five fruit-bearing trusses
Removing an inch of the plants’ trusses is only applicable for indeterminant tomato plants. The trusses are the branches growing from the main stem. As soon as your plant begins to flower, you should remove the side stems or trusses from the bottom of the plant up to the first flower. Limiting the plant to four or five trusses will allow your tomato plant to produce large, healthy fruit. Keeping more trusses will ultimately cause your plant to focus its energy on the growing shoots, and therefore, the fruit will be small and scant.
If the branches are low-hanging or touch the ground, you should either stake the branches or ultimately remove them. Leaves touching the ground are susceptible to bacteria, fungi, and viral infections that may spread through the rest of the plant.
Note, you should keep your tomato plant’s top shoot intact. The top shoot is known as the terminal shoot.
Determinate plants already have a predetermined natural number of stems that will grow, so there’s no need to prune above the flower cluster. Instead, you’ll only be removing its fruit-bearing branches.
Step 7: Tie your indeterminable tomato plants to vines
Be sure to tie your indeterminable tomato plants to supporters once flowering has occurred. The branches become too heavy for the stem to keep upright. If the plant isn’t supported, the plant will grow along the ground and won’t produce healthy fruit.
If your plant reaches the top support, cut off the top of the tomato plant. The plant will eventually be unable to support itself, and it will flop over. If the plant flops over, it creates poor air circulation, damp conditions and is more susceptible to diseases.
Can Your Prune Your Tomato Plant Too Much?
Yes, you can prune your tomato plants too much. However, removing too much foliage can expose your tomato plants’ fruit to too much sun, causing sunscald.
Over-pruning may even result in lower fruit production.
To avoid over-pruning your tomato plant, try to prune exclusively below the lowest flower cluster.
Tools Required for Pruning a Tomato Plant
The best tool to use while pruning tomato plans would be ordinary garden clippers. Garden clippers are easy to use and effective in cutting away unwanted shoots and leaves.
Ensure that your garden clippers are not too big. For example, using large garden clippers on a small tomato plant may cause difficulty in cutting the shoots, possibly damaging the tomato plant.
An alternative to garden clippers is a pair of scissors.
You don’t have to prune your tomatoes, but we do it to control the plant’s size, yield optimal fruit harvests, and manage diseases.
Determinable tomato plants do not require pruning; however, pruning some of the leaves may be beneficial. Whereas indeterminable plants thrive best when pruned.
Pruning is a simple task that requires minimal effort to reward you with healthier plants and more significant fruit.
The proper pruning methods and a little bit of care will go a very long way in making your tomato plant a happy and thriving plant!
All plants have necessary requirements which help them to grow. Without sunlight, water, fresh air, the correct temperature, and essential nutrients, plants would not thrive. Combine these factors...
Keeping a well-manicured lawn and a tidy garden does take hard work and regular maintenance. Having the correct tools to use for the job at hand makes the job easier. Knowing when and how to use the...