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

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

  1. dbswissy

    I’ve pruned and not pruned and have not noticed much difference with quantity or quality and my plants always get diseased anyway. And that’s with living in 3 different states and using completely different soils and fertilizers and “disease resistant” varieties. Oh well!

    • asonomagarden

      Thanks for the feedback! Sorry to hear that they get diseased regardless of what you’ve tried. Persnickety tomatoes!

  2. I don’t intentionally prune. This morning while bending some branches back into a cage, I accidentally snapped off part of a branch.

    This is the 1st year that I have experienced what I think is blight. The leaves curl in like a taco and have a charcoal tinge to them. This may be because the weather has cooled a bit. Once the temperatures scream back up to the 100s, those couple of plants may recover. If not, they’re outta here.

  3. Hi 🙂 thanks for answering some of my pruning curiosities in this post. I do prune occasionally if it seems like the plant is just putting out too many side shoots for my liking and not producing many flowers or fruits. One year I pruned vigilantly, all of the shoots in between the forks of the main branches, and I ended up killing the plants! Well, they seemed to just give up hope and stopped growing. Weird.
    As a rule, once the plants have set all their fruit and it gets close to the end of the growing season, I prune off all the extra stragglers and fruitless branches and late blossoms so that the energy will go to the fruit development and the ripening.
    I have a question about blossoms. Why do tomato plants like to blossom too early? I have often noticed once my plants get to about 1 to 3 feet tall, they suddenly blossom like mad and stop growing. I pinch off the blossoms and then the plant starts growing more and puts out new blossoms later. Is this something you’ve done before? What do you do when this happens? Thanks for the awesome posts this month!

  4. nathan

    well hi all have just grow my first batch of the good old english tommy and have just gone a little mad me thinks on the pruning as have taken most of the leaves hope this works as im no david bellomy…

  5. Hmm I’ll have to talk to the Hubs about this one. We certainly haven’t ever pruned and this is the first year we purchased indeterminate tomatoes. We have an exceptionally long growing season and it’s getting pretty jungley out there. Not to mention our fruit aren’t big AT ALL. But then we also have temps of 115 this week so manybe the extra foliage is a good thing to help cool the plant.

    Will look into this more. Thanks!


  6. allan

    I planted 15 different tomatoes one year.One week before mothers day & had a short hard frost.most all of the plants turned black & only a green stem left.the very next day was nice warm weather from there on out & sprouted new leaves imeaditly from the crouch.I had more tomatoes that year & over whelm with them than any year ever before.????..& overhead watering & sprawled.I did everything wrong,what a bunker crop I had??

  7. Pingback: Four Years of Junes : 30 Days to a Better Garden Revisited | A Sonoma Garden

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