Do I need to prune my tomato plants or not? This is a widespread question that comes from beginner tomato growers.
My answer to this question is YES, of course, if you plan to grow indeterminate tomatoes. And a big fat NO if you want to grow determinate tomatoes.
Here I discuss the essential tips about pruning tomatoes. Continue reading to know the rest.
01. Pruning best suited for indeterminate tomatoes
Pruning tomatoes mainly depends on plant growth habits. According to tomatoes’ growth habits, there are two types of tomato varieties: indeterminate tomatoes and determinate tomatoes.
Determinate tomato varieties are bushier types, also known as patio tomatoes which are the best suited for containers and growing pots.
They grow to a certain stage, stop growing, start producing fruits all at once, and finally die after the harvest. Therefore, pruning determinate tomatoes ultimately reduces the overall production.
On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes are vine types that can continue growing and produce fruits over the season until the first frost kills them.
Due to their continuous growth habit, you must prune them in different stages of their plant growth.
Pruning indeterminate tomatoes helps to control fruit production and quality. Besides, it can also help to prevent diseases.
02. Prune tomato plants below the first flower cluster
Leaves and stems under the first flower cluster are more susceptible to diseases when they touch the ground. So, check your tomato plants to see if they feel the ground anyway.
You can also start pruning when the lower leaves turn yellow.
Both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties need pruning of the lower leaves under the first set of fruits and when they turn yellow.
03. Pinch off the young suckers when they appear
Suckers are tiny new branches that grow at the point where branch leaves attach to the main stem.
If you don’t pinch them off earlier, they will grow bigger and drain off the plant sugar to produce more leaves instead producing fruits.
So, pinch off the new growing suckers quickly when they appear.
Remove all the suckers under the first set of flowers because they don’t produce any fruits. But avoid pruning all the suckers above the first flower cluster because they can grow fruits and flowers.
Besides, prune suckers are thinner than a pencil but leave them on stems if they are thicker than a pencil.
04. Start pruning when the first flower appears
Start pruning your tomato plants immediately when the first flower appears. In that case, you must confirm that your tomato plants hold at least 10 to 14 leaves or are 12 to 18 inches tall.
Pruning tomato plants in this stage can supply more sugar to develop flowers and fruits.
05. Sparingly pruning your tomatoes
Prune your tomato plants sparingly to reduce the risk of sunscald. In that case, start your pruning from the bottom of the tomato plants. It will help you to monitor the progress of pruning as well as able to show you what needs to be pruned.
Don’t prune all the unnecessary leaves and suckers all at once. Your plants may fall under unexpected stress, also sunscalds may appear.
To get better results, prune in small quantities each week to avoid the risk of sunscald and other tomato plant problems.
06. Use different pruning methods in different plant growth stages
There are commonly four types of pruning methods available for growing tomatoes. Such as:
- Simple pruning– pruning the young suckers to bloom more flowers and produce fruits.
- Missouri pruning– pinch off the tip of large suckers, leaving one or two leaves in the base.
- Root pruning– cut off the branch roots of a plant using a shovel or other similar garden tools to pressure the plants to ripen the fruits earlier after ripening the first fruit cluster.
- Topping or Top pruning– cut off the tip of each growing stem to ripen the tomato faster before 30 days of the first frost date.
You need to apply these pruning methods in different stages of plant growth.
07. Pruning with the right-hand tools
To remove the young suckers, you can use your hand to pinch them off.
Pruning shears often infect tomato plants. So, avoid using pruning shears unless the plant stem is too big to break down by hand.
Razorblade is safer than other tools if you need to cut something from the tomato plants.
08. Sanitize your garden tools before and after pruning tomatoes
When you need to prune your tomato plants with garden tools like shears, razors, or blades, sanitize them with sterol cleaner.
Clean your garden tools each time before you prune multiple tomato plants.
09. Leave the lower and upper leaves of a fruit cluster when pruning
The lower and upper leaves of a fruit cluster provide more sugar to the tomato plants than other branch leaves. Moreover, they protect your fruits from unexpected sunscald.
So, avoid pruning the lower and upper leaves that are closest to the fruits.
10. Avoid over-pruning your tomatoes
Leaves generate the necessary sugar for the tomato plants, which is very essential for blooming and producing new fruits.
Over-pruning and unnecessary pruning can harm the overall plant health and reduce fruit production.
Don’t prune any stems or leaves if you are not confident about them. Keep one stem left each time when you prune tomatoes to let the stem produce more flowers and fruits.
You can grow around 4 to 5 stems in a single tomato plant to produce more fruits. And don’t prune more than one part out of three-part of your tomato plants at once.
11. Make a schedule for pruning tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes grow around the season. So, you need to continue pruning until the end of the season too.
In that case, prune your tomatoes once a week to keep them balanced on the work. A long gap between pruning lets the suckers grow larger and drain out the energy. On the other hand, over-pruning also harms your plants.
12. Prune only non-essential parts of tomato plants
When you go pruning, focus only on the extra parts of your tomato plants. Such as:
- Lower stems and leaves.
- New stems grow from old ones.
- Stems without any flowers and fruits.
- Remove yellowing leaves.
- Dead or disease-infected leaves.
- Overlapping stems and leaves.
13. Topping in the late season
If your tomato plant growth seems too high during the late season, you can cut off the tip of each main stem of your tomato plants. It will stop growing your plants upwards. Moreover, it will also help to ripen the fruits faster.
Consider snipping off your plant tips a month before the first frost date.
14. Start pruning in the morning
Morning is the best time to start pruning your tomato plants. You can easily snip off the sucker from the very beginning of the day. Besides, choose a cloudy day when the sunlight is not overheated.
It will help the plants to recover from the extra stress of pruning during the day.
15. Prune the diseases infected plants
If your plant shows any symptoms of tomato leaf diseases, immediately cut them off to prevent the spreading of the diseases.
16. Remove the overlapping stems and leaves
Snip off the overlapping stems and leaves on the tomato plants if they are not holding any fruits. It may appear while multiple tomato plants grow together.
Removing overlapping leaves ensures sunlight exposure and increases the airflow between the tomato plants.
17. Don’t use the leftover pruning in the compost pile
Tomato leaves and stems are a great source of compost materials. But don’t use the leftover pruning if they are infected by any diseases.
18. Fruit size influences the pruning method
If you want a large number of fruits, you need to grow tomatoes in multiple stems. More stems produce more fruits but are smaller in size.
On the other hand, if you need larger fruits, you should grow tomatoes only in a single growing stem. It will help to produce a larger but small number of fruits.
19. Garden location and planting zone
Garden location and planting zones play a vital role in pruning tomatoes. Different planting zones show different types of environments.
Moreover, if your garden location is situated in a micro-climate area, that will introduce you to a unique environment that doesn’t follow the USDA plant hardiness zone map.
You may face rainy days or hot and dry weather conditions during the growing season. Pruning on rainy days is more susceptible to diseases. On the other side, warm and dry weather conditions may appear sunscald.
So, your local garden area and planting zones make a huge variance in pruning tomato plants. In that case, I recommend you choose a cloudy day according to your local weather forecast.
20. Overall experience in growing tomatoes
If you have any previous experience growing both determinate and indeterminate tomato varieties, you could do better in the next growing season.
Growing only determinate tomatoes doesn’t give you a clear idea of growing indeterminate varieties. Because they don’t need any pruning.
But if you have previous experience in growing indeterminate tomato varieties this season, you will do better than last year.