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.


*  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.


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 North Carolina Cooperative Extension 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).


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.


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.

  Comments (2)


I have learned so much from your videos and this post will really save me next year. Here in southern New Jersey, I grow some tomatoes but it ends up being the only crop I really grow. Other than some great perennial herbs and flowers, of course.  I realized that this year, the first year I actually started seeds early, that they were overwatered and the pests got to them. My next battle is Pill Bugs. Can I ask you about Dahlia’s?

Posted by Rich on Oct. 18, 2018 at 8:40:02 AM

Rich, If you have a really short growing season, starting your seeds early so your transplants are a good size will help you with growing great veggies. You can also utilize floating row covers, or build yourself some hoop houses covered with greenhouse poly. If you have the space you can also consider a greenhouse or grow in a cold frame. When there is a will there is a way. I know of farmers that grow in Maine in greenhouses (or large hoop houses). If you grow Dahlias you may want to lift them for the winter. You can dig them up, put them in pots and locate the pots to an area so the soil in the pots do not freeze.

Posted by Suzanne at GrowOrganic.com on Oct. 22, 2018 at 12:21:20 PM

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