Learning how to prune tomato plants is incredibly important for any gardener growing this incredible produce. Tomatoes are a popular crop in home gardens and are loved for their juicy, flavorful fruit. However, to get the best harvest, it's important to properly care for the plants throughout the growing season.
One crucial aspect of tomato plant care is pruning, which involves removing specific parts of the plant to improve overall health and fruit production.
Pruning tomato plants can seem intimidating, but with the right techniques and knowledge, it's a simple process that can greatly benefit your garden.
In this guide, we'll discuss why pruning is important, what exactly tomato suckers are, when to prune, and how to do it correctly to ensure a bountiful tomato harvest.
Table of Contents
What are Tomato Plant Suckers?
Tomato plant suckers are small shoots growing off the main stem. These suckers usually grow wherever the main stems make a "V" shape. If they're not removed, the small shoots will grow into full-size branches, forming “Y” shapes that will make your tomato plant bushy.
Sucker stems aren't very different from the main tomato plant stems. In fact, if left to grow, they would eventually form foliage and even fruit tomatoes of their own. However, there are quite a few reasons why it's a good idea to prune these suckers and prune them early.
Why Should You Prune Tomato Plants?
One of the biggest reasons to prune tomato sucker stems is so that the plant will focus its energy on growing bigger, higher-quality fruit, rather than leaf growth.
Pruning the suckers gives more vitamins and nutrients to the main stem and the tomatoes that grow off of it. Leaving suckers on the plant may result in more fruit, but it will be smaller and not as juicy or flavorful.
Another reason to prune tomato suckers is to decrease the chances of fungal infections. Less foliage increases the airflow around the plant and fruit, which helps ward off disease. This also keeps excess foliage from shading other leaves, which reduces the amount of sugar (energy) they produce.
If you are growing tomatoes in containers, pruning can be a smart strategy to manage the size of the plant, as a robust tomato vine can quickly outgrow its container. In an ideal situation, you should only plant compact tomato varieties in containers.
When a tomato plant is pruned well, all of its leaves get enough light and the plant can photosynthesize more efficiently. This helps the plant grow and make more fruit.
When Do I Prune Tomato Suckers?
The earlier you pinch them off, the better and easier it will be for you to keep your plant clean. Small shoots about 1" – 3" inches in length should be pruned as soon as you notice them. This helps the main stem not waste too much energy and nutrients growing the suckers.
If this is your first time pruning your plants or you haven't pruned in a while, be careful not to prune too many at once. Even though they're called "suckers", they're still providing energy from sunlight to the plant. Pruning too many at one time can shock the plant and stunt its growth for a time.
How Do I Prune the Tomato Suckers (Step by Step)
Pruning tomato suckers from your tomato plant is a simple three-step process. Here's what you need to do:
Step 1: Locate the Suckers
Look for the suckers on your tomato plant. They grow in the "V" shaped space between the main stem and the branches. These suckers, if left unpruned, will ultimately develop into full-sized branches with abundant foliage but only a few fruits. A tomato plant grown in this way will quickly outgrow its allotted garden space.
Step 2: Remove the Suckers
Small suckers that are less than 3 inches in length can be removed with a simple pinch of your fingers. Hold the base of the sucker in between your thumb and index fingers and simply pinch it off the main stem.
Thicker shoots should be cut off with pruning shears to avoid damaging the tomato plant. Cut the shoot at a slight angle as close to the main stem as you can, being careful not to cut any other part of the plant.
Wash your pruning shears with rubbing alcohol to disinfect them before pruning other plants. This will help prevent the spread of diseases.
If you can, get rid of the suckers when they are still small. Taking off a lot of leaves at once can be hard on the plant.
Step 3: Remove or Stake Long Branches
It is recommended that low-hanging branches that are touching the ground be either staked up or removed entirely. It's possible for bacteria, fungi, and infections to infect a plant from the ground up if any of its leaves come into contact with it.
The use of tomato cages simplifies the process of staking your plants to the ground. Choose a cage big enough so that it can hold the bulk of your plant.
Do I Prune off All of the Tomato Suckers?
As long as you have a strong thick stem you can leave 2 – 3 suckers on the plant. The fewer the suckers the better, but having a couple of healthy tomato plants won't hurt.
If you're the kind to want immaculate tomato plants with absolutely no suckers, just remember not to prune too many at once. Shocking a plant will severely limit its growth for a time, and it can kill it completely in severe cases.
How to Snap off Extra Tomato Leaves
As I mentioned above, snapping off leaves that are touching the ground is very important and recommended. Leaves touching the ground can transfer disease to the plant and the fruit. You can easily snap off the leaves of the plant by using pruners (recommended) or with your fingers.
I use my fingers to snap off the tomato leaves. Simply hold the leaf at the very beginning of the stem and snap it off by applying pressure with your thumb and lifting the leaf up at the same time. It's also a good idea to do this for any leaves that are yellowing excessively around the entire plant.
WATCH YOUTUBE VIDEO BELOW ON HOW TO HOW TO PRUNE TOMATO PLANTS.
If you enjoyed this video, please Subscribe to my YouTube channel, and be sure to click the bell icon so you can be the first to know of a new video when released!
Check out other posts about how to grow tomato plants: