from the employee owners at Gardener's Supply Co.

Simple Pruning Technique Improves Tomato Harvest

Suckers on a tomato plant

Suckers are the shoots that form where side branches meet stems.

Left on their own, tomatoes will grow into shrubby, multi-stemmed plants that topple under the weight of their fruit. Fruit and foliage are more prone to attack by pests and disease when they’re sprawled on the ground. Pruning and using plant supports can help create healthier, more productive tomato plants.

Advantages to pruning:

  • Keep plants compact and prevent sprawl.
  • Make it easy to support plants using Tomato Ladders and other supports.
  • Maximize production.
  • Minimize disease problems by improving air circulation.

Tradeoffs when pruning:

  • It removes leaves that would otherwise feed the plant.
  • Removing foliage can expose fruit to sunscald.

How to Prune

There are several ways to prune tomato plants, depending on the type of tomato and the support you use. As a rule, pruning is most helpful for indeterminate tomato varieties — large plants that continue to grow taller and produce fruit until killed by frost. Determinate, or bush tomatoes, tend to be smaller and more manageable.

Tomato Cages

With Tomato Cages, it’s good practice to leave some of the suckers on the higher branches.

Tomatoes growing on Tomato Ladders

Plants grown on Tomato Ladders and other narrow supports benefit from pruning.

Most tomato pruning involves removing suckers — the shoots that form in the axils where side branches meet the stem. Remove suckers when they’re small by pinching them off or snipping them with pruners.

If your goal is to maximize the harvest, prune suckers sparingly. A good compromise is to remove all suckers that grow below the first flower cluster. This helps keep the main supporting stem strong, but it doesn’t remove upper suckers that will eventually produce flowers and fruit.

Prune sparingly, too, if you live in a place with intense summer sun, which can cause sunscald on fruits (fruit with tough, thickened skin and discolored areas).

In regions with short growing seasons, some gardeners start pruning off suckers in late summer to encourage the plant to direct its energy to existing fruit.

Training Methods

If space in your garden is at a premium, or if you’re supporting plants with Tomato Ladders, stakes or other tall, narrow supports, it’s best to prune your tomatoes to one or two main stems. To do this, pinch out all suckers. Otherwise, suckers will grow into additional stems and create a wide, bushy plant. The remaining main stems will grow strong and sturdy and will be easier to secure to the supports’ uprights with plant ties.

Gardeners using Tomato Cages or Tomato Towers to support plants often pinch out the suckers on the lower stems but allow suckers higher up on the plant to grow.

11 Comments

  1. May 28, 2013    

    My father taught me this and I do it to my tomato plants. It was a very important lesson.

    • shirley
      June 3, 2013    

      Thank you for the tip. I sniped off too many but most of our tomato plants are doing good, my husband is the gardener around here.

  2. Elaine
    May 28, 2013    

    Has anyone heard of letting them grow somewhat so that you can root these “suckers” to start a 2nd crop?

    • don honeycutt
      June 3, 2013    

      you can if you plan a bigger crop……but as they grow they starve out the leaves from water some what, so be careful

    • shirley
      June 3, 2013    

      I’ve never heard of that but if you find out you can do this, I would love to know.

      • Milt
        June 3, 2013    

        I always pinch off the suckers and pu some of them in water until they start new roots and then plant them. I had one that I planted in early August last year and got my last tomato from it in December. I live in Mississippi.

    • Barbara
      June 3, 2013    

      I have done that many times!

  3. don honeycutt
    June 3, 2013    

    I always plant my plants were they get the max sunshine, then , every day that we have no rain, I water them, soak the ground and leaves…….then once a week , I do the same with tomato miracle grow…..I plant only big beef and super sweet one hundred plants also…..they produce really good like this habit that I do

  4. Joyce
    June 3, 2013    

    Rooting suckers is a wonderful way for having later tomatoes. The root very easy. I just put mine in compost soil and keep them moist. I have just stuck them in with the other plants in the garden and they take off. If you are inclined to do so you may want to put on a rooting hormone.

  5. Gail
    June 4, 2013    

    Retaining snipped suckers is a great way to expand your tomato crop. I break them off, put in a rooting medium and then into potting soil (or grow boxes). They can more than triple your tomato garden. They have shorter bearing season but make up by having more plants. Can be done with all varieties I’ve tried.

  6. Meg Easling
    June 5, 2013    

    I love gardening!

  1. SSP2 – Tomato Pruning and Suckering (late blight) « selfsufficientpath on July 1, 2014 at 11:37 am

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