Learning how to prune your tomato plant will reward you with a bountiful harvest. There are only a few rules to follow and 3 things to strictly avoid.
By pruning a tomato plant you can achieve that it does not spread and produces more fruit. So let’s try to shape the plant by following the rules below.
There are probably more articles written about pruning tomato plants than any other gardening task. However, advice on pruning tomatoes is unfortunately often difficult to understand, contradictory or downright confusing. The truth is that tomatoes don’t necessarily need to be pruned. There are gardeners who let the plant grow as it pleases and never cut back its shoots.
Pruning tomatoes, however, gives the gardener more fruits, so it’s worth learning how. Pruning is much easier than you might think, especially if you do a little bit of it every week so the plants can’t overgrow. Below, we try to summarize the most important information so that hobby gardeners interested in the topic can become real tomato pruning experts.
Why Should Tomatoes be Pruned?
In the case of tomato varieties with determinate growth, pruning is never necessary. These so-called bush tomatoes stop growing when they reach a certain height and will not produce any more fruit beyond a certain point. Pruning them only limits their growth even more.
Tomatoes with indeterminate growth, on the other hand, are a completely different story. These subtropical plants grow sprawling, ever-growing stems and shoots that, if left undisturbed, eventually form a tangled, disorganized, fruitless mess. Maybe the foliage will be lush and attractive, but you don’t grow tomatoes for their leaves. You want healthy, sweet and juicy fruits. Tomatoes need a lot of sunlight to ripen and be sweet enough. If you allow the shoots to spread freely, you can harvest fewer tomatoes at the end and they will not be as tasty.
How to Prune Tomatoes?
When you first start pruning tomatoes, there are 3 rules to keep in mind: the first is to never, ever cut the highest growing flowers. If you do this, the upward growth of the plant will stop. The plant becomes bushier and less fertile. The next rule is to cut the suckers (small shoots that sprout out from where the stem and the branch of a tomato plant meet) while they are still small. If you wait until they are bigger and stronger, you risk damaging the plant when you remove them. Furthermore, you also allow them to draw energy from developing fruits.
Finally, examine the whole plant before starting to remove the suckers. Are there new suckers growing at the base of the plant? Remove these first.
What is the general condition of the plant and how fast is it growing? Does it grow nicely in warm weather, or does it seem like the plant is under some stress? Are you still unsure, at a loss? The detailed step-by-step tomato pruning guide below is sure to help!
1. If possible, prune tomato plants early in the morning, as the suckers can be broken off more easily. The heat of the sun makes them softer and more likely to tear, which you want to avoid.
2. Examine the plant. Your goal is to prune it so that it has a single main (vertical) central stem with a few strong, healthy side shoots. After locating this main stem and the larger side shoos, look at the smaller suckers that grow where the main stem and the side shoots meet. These little offshoots try to grow into new plants. However, you do not want this, as the plant becomes bulky and unmanageable, and the expected yield will also be lower.
3. After finding these extra shoots, remove them by pinching your thumb and forefinger together. Try to pinch off the suckers in one attempt, rather than tearing them off, so that the plant is not damaged. Cut the thicker suckers with a sharp knife or pruning shears so that the wounded surface is not large!
4. Scatter the removed suckers under the plant to decompose or throw them away.
5. Remember not to cut shoots that grow above flowers. These are new shoots that will produce even more flowers. Instead, focus on removing unwanted shoots that grow on the main stem.
6. If a second main stem emerges from the ground, remove it. If you have a lot of space, you can let another plant grow out of it, but in most cases it is best to remove it from the ground.
When do You Prune Tomatoes?
Now that you understand the basics of pruning tomatoes, the question arises: how often should they be pruned? Usually about once a week is usually enough, unless the plants are growing very vigorously. Depending on the size of our vegetable garden, 15 minutes a week is usually sufficient for this work.
Don’t worry if you miss a week or two. Tomato bushes will continue to grow and produce even if the suckers are not removed. However, if you do not fail to do this, the plant will be easier to handle and will yield more fruit.