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When, Why & How to Prune Tomatoes

By on July 14, 2011

Suckers grow in the axil (or crotch) of a tomato plant, where the vertical stem meets the branch. Drawing: UC Davis IPM Program.

Pruning tomatoes? Aren’t gardeners busy enough during the year, pruning roses and grapevines?

Pruning tomato suckers is not a big, hairy project—although it is fun to touch those hairy tomato stems and aromatic leaves. It’s more like a once-a-week grooming of your tomato plants.

THE REWARDS OF PRUNING TOMATOES

*  Larger, earlier tomatoes—a boon for those of us with short growing seasons (or cooler-than-usual summers).

*  A slimmer plant that is easier to grow vertically.

*  A healthier plant: growing tomatoes vertically increases air circulation between the leaves, and lifts the leaves and fruit away from crawling pests.

TWO SCHOOLS OF THOUGHT ON PRUNING TOMATO SUCKERS.

1.  Some suggest pinching the sucker off at its base, in the axil (or crotch) of the tomato plant, where the vertical stem meets the branch.

2.  UC Davis and Purdue University recommend “Missouri pruning”, allowing two leaves to remain on the sucker and snipping off all the other sucker growth. The illustration shows Missouri pruning in action. The advantages of Missouri pruning are more photosynthesis, and more shade for the fruit (to keep sunscald at bay).

PRUNING IS ONLY FOR INDETERMINATE (VINING) TOMATOES

As Tricia says in our video on tomato pruning and problem control, ONLY prune vining (indeterminate) tomatoes. The bush (determinate) tomatoes, like ‘Roma’, stop growing at a pre-determined height and should not be pruned.

START SNIPPING

So, once a week, grab your snippers and get up close and personal with your vining tomato plants. See if that gives you a bigger, earlier tomato.

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