How to Prune Tomato Plants | When & How To Prune Your Own Tomatoes

It is that time of the year when growing a thriving, bursting and vibrant tomato garden is on the mind. Growing a beautiful tomato plant is oh so fulfilling, and so much fun. If you are a veteran when it comes to vegetable gardening, you will know that checking in every day to guide how your tomato plants growth is an important part of the process. 

This week, we are bringing you a complete guide to pruning tomatoes – what types of tomato plants to prune, how to do so, and everything you need to know in order to encourage your plants to continue to grow. Keep reading to learn more, and get ready to have the best tomato season yet. 

Tomato Pruning Goals

If you regularly grow tomatoes, then you know that the main goal behind pruning the plants is to redirect their energy into fruit production, as opposed to growing foliage. Pruning tomato plants also allows for you to create more opportunities for airflow, which will keep your plants from falling prey to fungus and tomato diseases. You’ll also want to keep an eye out for early ripening, which is a lovely result of keeping up with the pruning of your tomatoes. 

Another wonderful reason for you to prune your tomato plants is because it allows all of the tomato leaves to receive equal amounts of sunlight. This increases the rate of photosynthesis, and also boosts growth and fruit production in general. Pruning your tomato plants will result in the production of large fruit, to boot!

Tomato Plant Types

One of the most imperative pieces of information to keep in mind when pruning your tomatoes is that there are two different types of tomato varieties. There are determinate varieties, such as a Roma or a Celebrity tomato, and indeterminate varieties, such as an heirloom tomato. 

Determinate tomato plants will reach a certain height during the growing season, and then they will stop growing. Indeterminate tomato plants will require extra tall supports, like tomato cages or a trellis, as they will continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the season. 

You should avoid pruning determinate tomatoes, as it can stunt their growth altogether! That said, indeterminate varieties thrive when they are properly pruned – what you need to focus on now if refining your pruning technique. 

How to Prune Tomatoes (Step By Step)

The second thing you should keep in mind when pruning tomatoes is all of the different parts of a tomato plant. This includes the growing tip, the stem, flower clusters, the axil, and the leaves. When pruning, you want to always be weary of trimming off the wrong parts of the plant; for example, never chop down the main stem. 

See these steps to learn how to successfully and safely prune your tomato plants this year:

How To Prune Tomatoes

  1. Get Your Tools

    Find a pair of clean and sanitized pruning shears, also known as pruners

  2. Remove Lower Leaves & Flowers

    When you plant your tomato plant, be sure to remove the lower leaves, as well as remove any of the first flower clusters that have started to form

  3. Early To Mid Season Trimming

    In the early and midseason stages, snip off any flower clusters until your tomatoes are at least 12-18 inches tall – this is so that they can continue to funnel their energy into their roots while they’re growing

  4. Remove Tomato Suckers

    Remove all of the leafy tomato suckers that are underneath the first fruit cluster you see.  This is so that they won’t hinder the development of the fruit. Suckers are side shoots that form in the axil, where the leaf stem attaches to the main stem. To remove suckers, pinch with your fingers, and gently pull from the stem

  5. Late Season Care

    In the late season, to convince your tomatoes to ripen before the first frost, snip off the growing tip of each main stem about four weeks before the frost is expected. The growing tip can be anywhere from 3-5 inches. 

Tips on How to Prune Tomato Plants for Maximum Yield

  1. Always clean your shears before pruning a new plant; if one plant has a disease that you are unaware of, it’s important to take precautionary measures to ensure that this sickness is not spread
  2. In warmer zones, expert tomato planters practice a method that is commonly known as Missouri pruning. This entails pinching off the smaller leaflets at the end of each sucker, and leaving only the two base leaves in place. As these leaves grow, they will eventually help to shade growing fruit, and protect it from sunscald.
  3. Another type of helpful pruning is called “topping”, which is great for late summer tomatoes. This type of pruning causes the plant to stop flowering and setting new fruit. Instead, the plant will then direct all sugars to the remaining fruits that have already grown. If you use this method, your fruit will ripen faster, and it is more likely that any green tomatoes you should pick before frost will actually ripen when you bring them indoors. 

When Should I Prune Tomato Plants?

Ideally, you should prune your tomato plants in the morning on a dry day. This is a gardening tip that you definitely need to keep in mind – it will allow the pruning wounds on your plant to heal cleanly, and keep the plant from becoming infected or ill.  

How Much Should I Prune Tomato Plants?

The most significant pruning that you’ll need to do for your tomatoes is to remove the persistent new suckers that sprout up from branch unions. If you let them continue to grow, they will eventually become branches that crowd out the plant, which will block light and air circulation. 

On the other hand, remember that if you over prune, your plant runs the risk of getting sunburnt, and it will also yield a smaller amount of fruit during the growing season. 

What are Tomato Plant Suckers?

Tomato plant suckers are shoots that form along the axil, where a growing stem intersects with the main stem. Suckers are quick and persistent growers that can crowd out your plant, and cause for stunted growth. 

When to Remove Tomato Plant Suckers

If you live in a climate that is generally cooler, it is best to pinch off tomato plant suckers as soon as you see them. If you live in a climate that tends to stay on the warm and sunny side, you’ll want to subscribe to the Missouri Pruning technique, so that you can save your fruit from sunscald. This means that you’ll only be removing part of the suckers, so that the lower leaves grow to protect your growing fruit. 

How to Remove Tomato Plant Suckers

You should be able to simply pinch the tomato plant sucker, or the tip of the sucker, with your finger and thumb, and gently pull it to remove it from the plant. If it is too large to remove in this way, find a sanitized pair of gardening scissors, or a clean knife, and cut it from the stem. Be careful not to wound the main stem of the plant when you use this method. 

How Often Should you Remove Tomato Plant Suckers?

Depending on what pruning practices you choose to subscribe to, there are different schools of thought regarding how often suckers should be removed. As a general rule, it is safe to remove tomato suckers as soon as they reach about 2-2.5 inches in length. 

Our Grow Pro Frequently Asked Questions about Pruning Tomatoes

Do tomato plants need to be pruned?

No, tomato plants don’t technically need to be pruned. However, if you prune your indeterminate tomato plants, you will have a much larger yield (with larger fruit), and much happier plants. 

When should I trim my tomato plants?

Your plants will be ready for pruning once they reach about 12 to 18 inches in height. Otherwise, you can trim off flower clusters and suckers as soon as your plant is in the ground. 

How do you prune tomato plants for better yield?

For a better yield, be sure to prune off flower clusters and tomato suckers that will take your plant’s energy away from producing fruits. 

Should I trim lower branches on tomato plants?

Yes, when you plant your tomatoes, be sure to trim off the lower branches. When your tomato plants are growing, you can trim off side shoots that create clutter or that prevent air circulation. 

What happens if you don’t prune tomatoes?

If you don’t prune your tomato plants, they will become overgrown, and they won’t be able to fully photosynthesize. Some fruits will not be able to grow to maturity, and overall, your plant will bear smaller fruits. 

How do you prune tomato plants for better yield?

For a better yield, you need to remove clutter from your tomato plants. This includes removing the stems from the lower branches of your plant, removing suckers as they pop up, and cutting off the top of your tomato plant about 4 weeks before the first frost date. 

Start Growing Your Own Tomatoes

Now that you’ve read all that you need to know regarding pruning your tomato plants, you can recognize that the practice is not so daunting after all. What you’re really doing is creating space for your plants to prosper and soak up as much sun as possible. With all of this in mind, you are officially ready to start growing some beautiful tomatoes this season. 

For a head start, take a look at our Container Garden Kits, and bring home tomatoes that are catered specifically to the climate that you live in. (A seasonal favorite is the Caprese Garden, it comes with a fully rooted tomato plant and fresh herbs. Happy growing!

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