How to Prune Tomato Plants

Tomato Plants 2020-01

Pruning Tomato Plants

The majority of home gardeners grow tomato plants. Tomatoes are both easy to grow and very prolific producers. While many tomato gardeners do not give pruning tomato plants a thought, this simple garden technique can result in bigger, better tomatoes, and a healthier plant that will produce far longer, than a plant that is not pruned. So, take a few minutes to read this article on how to prune tomato plants. Then, try it in your garden. You’ll be glad you did!

Pruning Tomato Plants in Pots : It is even more important to prune tomatoes growing in pots and containers on a patio or a deck. See more information below.

Tomato Trivia: The largest tomato ever grown was 7.75 pounds. Certainly, the grower knew how to prune tomatoes. See Giant Veggies.  

Tomato Flaticon

Why Prune Tomato Plants?

It’s kinda funny, as gardeners, we practice the technique of pruning roses and many other flowers. We even prune some of our other garden veggies. But, when it comes to tomatoes, we often just “let ’em grow!”

Without a doubt, the time and effort you spend pruning tomato plants will reap big rewards. 

Before we get into how to prune tomatoes, here are some reasons why we SHOULD prune them.

The benefits of pruning include:

  • Produce bigger tomatoes

  • Higher yield (quantity and weight)

  • Plant Health – minimize plant disease, provide more air circulation and light.

  • Re-invigorate plant growth…new leaves and branches grow faster.

  • To limit plant size of indeterminate vine types.

  • Aesthetics – to remove dead, weak, unsightly, or non-productive branches (suckers).

TIP: If you are trying to grow a truly giant tomato, prune plants heavily, and leave only one or two tomatoes growing on a single vine. Record Giant Tomato

Tomato Flaticon

How to Prune Tomato Plants

Pruning tomato plants is easy. All you need is a sharp hand pruner.

TIP: Wear gloves and a long-sleeve shirt when working with tomato plants. The plant leaves and vines have a mild toxin, that can irritate your skin.

When the plants are young, about 12″ tall, snip off the bottom two to four branches. This will direct the plant’s energy to grow taller, and keep lower vines from creating too dense of a foliage. Prune plants so there are no vines off the main trunk below 6-8 inches from the ground. This also allows easy access for weeding and fertilizing at the base of the plant. As the season progresses, continue to remove suckers in this area.

Allow 2-4 branches (vines) to form. These are the main branches that will continue to grow all season long.  

Be watchful for suckers, a few are okay. Too many suckers will result in a plant that is too bushy.

Thin-out bushy plants. When a plant is too bushy, air circulation and sunlight can not reach all of the leaves. If sunlight does not reach the inner leaves, it turns yellow and serves little purpose. Also, a lack of sunlight and air circulation provides a place for a plant disease to harbor and grow.

Prune any broken, dead, or damaged leaves and branches as they appear.

Snip off and remove any infected branches and leaves as soon as you spot them. Dispose of diseased plant material, so the disease does not spread.

Topping off plants- Some growers top their plants off at a certain height. We do not encourage plants to be topped off. Cutting off the growing tips limits the plant’s potential production of flowers and fruit.

Tomato Cages and Staking Plants

Caging or staking your plants goes hand-in-hand with pruning tomatoes. In addition to the benefits of this practice, you can better see what needs to be pruned.

It maximizes your crop, and minimizes disease and insect damage, by staking or caging tomato plants. They will reward you with more tomatoes. The fruit will be cleaner, as they will not be sitting on the soil. More on staking tomatoes.

Tomato Flaticon

Pruning Tomato Plants in Pots

 It is even more important to prune tomatoes growing in pots and containers on a patio or a deck. First, the space on your patio or deck is most likely limited. You may need to prune them just to keep the plants within the space you can allow for them to grow. Second, they are in a more visible location. So, you want the plants to look their best at all times. Also, pots and planters offer a limited amount of soil to feed them. By keeping the plant small, you allow them to grow healthier and to produce more fruit.

When pruning tomato plants in pots, follow the same process as you would for plants grown in the garden. Just be a little more aggressive to keep them under control.  Remove suckers, early.  Snip them off at the main stem. And allow only three to four main branches to grow. 

Garden Tip: Determinate varieties are the best candidates to grow in containers. May we suggest Tiny Tim? Their short, determinate growth translates into less pruning for you.

Learn How to Grow Tomatoes

Garden Tomato Recipes

May we suggest:

How to Grow Tomatoes - Related Articles

On the Light Side: See Tomato Trivia

Tomato Mania – In-depth information and advice from Garden Hobbies

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