Daily Archives: June 11, 2009

How to Prune Tomatoes (Day 11 of 30 Days to a Better Garden)

Before you start reading about tomato pruning you need to decide if you are a quantity over quality person. And while you are at it, think about if you are a hands off gardener or a nurturing gardener. I ask you to think about those things because tomato pruning is an optional thing and honestly we’ve never made a strong practice of it. However I thought we should talk about it today because if you live in an area where tomato diseases are common, pruning your tomatoes might be the one thing that could save them.

Why Should You Prune Tomatoes?
As you probably know there are two types of tomatoes, determinate (growing only to a ‘determinted’ height) and indeterminate (which will grow as high as they possibly can in a growing season-our friend’s grew up and over his roof one year!). Determinate tomatoes don’t need pruning at all, but you might choose to take control of those indeterminate variety. Tomatoes are prolific growers when they are young and they shoot off branches and leaves in all directions, which is great. This strong early growth often provides for a nice sturdy base for this tall growing type. As the tomato grows, suckers start to grow between the main stem and the branches (I’m about to pinch one off in the photo above). By the end of the growing season you could have a real jungle on your hands. The danger of having such a dense mat of tomato branches is that it reduces the amount of sunlight and air that can get through the plant which increases your chances of disease. And while having so many branches increases your tomato yield, it could cost you in quality.

How Do You Prune Tomatoes?

The easiest way to keep tomatoes under control is to snip off the suckers with your fingers while they are small. You’ll want to use clippers for a nice clean cut if your suckers are too big to pinch off. In doing this, you will provide the tomato plant with one main stem and many stronger side branches. The reduced foliage will compete less with the fruit that is growing and provide you with larger more flavorful tomatoes. And because the fewer leaves are receiving more air and sunlight they will dry faster after a mid summer rainshower and will reduce their chance of being attached by a bacterial or fungal disease. If you are training your tomatoes to grow up a pole, this type of pruning is essential.

Some people claim that by pruning off the entire sucker that you don’t leave enough leaves for photo synthesis, so you could prune the sucker down to having only two or so leaves. This type of pruning is called Missouri pruning.

Why Don’t We Prune?
While our favorite must-read tomato growing book called, “How to Grow World Record Tomatoes” recommends sucker pruning, we don’t prune for quite a few reasons. First is that between a full time job, a business, two small boys, two cats and three chickens we just don’t have much extra time to do optional pruning. Also we like the look of our jungle tomato plants. Seeing all that lush greenery is beautiful. Plus we (knock on wood) haven’t had hardly any problems with tomato diseases over the years. We might be compromising our tomato quality, but there will be many years ahead of us when life itself doesn’t get in the way that we can prune our tomatoes. In the meantime, welcome to our tomato jungle!

Do you prune your tomato suckers? Has it made a difference?


Filed under 30 Days to a Better Garden