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Growing Wisdom:Pruning Tomatoes

Pruning tomatoes is one of the easiest and most beneficial things you can do to increase fruit size and help lessen the chances of disease.   First, let’s talk about which tomatoes to prune.  Indeterminate (climbing) tomatoes sh

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ould be staked, trellised, or caged, and pruned for best results.  Determinate (bush) tomatoes do not need pruning and may be grown with or without support.  Now what is the difference? 

The fruit of determinate tomatoes ripens within a concentrated time period.  The fruit of indeterminate tomato varieties ripens over an extended period, and will continue to grow until they are affected by the first hard frost.  For example, you may have purchased a container tomato plant for your patio.  Typically, the tomatoes commercially available in containers are determinate and do not need pruning.  However, you still should give it some support.  On the other hand, the cherry tomato plant in your garden is most likely an indeterminate plant – if you don’t keep it in check, it might take over!

The basic method of pruning is to remove the suckers from the leaf axils of the tomato plant.  Click here to see a video on how to prune tomatoes.  The sucker is the growth that comes up between the main leader of the plant and the side branches.  There are a couple of schools of thought on removing suckers.  Some people remove all the suckers.  Some leave the first sucker after the first set of flowers.  This gives you two leaders.   I do the latter.


In the photo above, the stick is pointing to the sucker in one leaf axil of the plant.  The picture below shows a tomato that has been pruned.


Why are we doing this?  If you remove the suckers you will have larger, sweeter, and, in my opinion, healthier tomatoes.  If you leave them you will get more tomatoes, but the plant is more susceptible to disease and other health issues.

If you have not removed any suckers all season and they have grown out of control, you should be careful about taking off the entire sucker, as it could cause too much sun to hit the developing fruit.  In this case remove parts of the sucker to the last set of leaves.  This is called Missouri pruning, where you pinch just the tip of the sucker, letting one or two leaves remain. This gives the plant more leaves and thus more photosynthesis and aids in protecting developing fruit from sun-scald. In this case, suckers should be removed gradually, over a period of a week or more, so the plant is not shocked too much.

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