Pruning tomato plants can be a polarizing topic for gardeners. Some think that it’s completely unnecessary to prune tomato plants since they can grow and thrive with no pruning.
Meanwhile, some gardeners believe that pruned plants result in hardier tomato plants that bear larger and more plump fruit.
Plus keeping indeterminate tomato plants pruned means the leaves dry quicker preventing diseases leading to overall healthier plants.
So which one is right? Today, we will find out as we talk about whether or not you need to prune the tomatoes in your garden and how to do it properly. Let’s get started!
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Do Tomato Plants Need To Be Pruned?
Let’s get one thing out of the way first, both schools of thought about pruning your delicious tomatoes will work just fine but it all depends on the varieties of tomato plants you are growing in your garden.
Not all tomato plants need pruning particularly determinate tomatoes. This variety of tomato develops all of its new fruit one time so they don’t need as much help. The only pruning you need is removing all suckers below the first flower clusters, because pruning won’t affect their fruit size or plant.
They grow to a certain height only once they mature. Once its first fruits have grown and ripened, they likely won’t grow any new ones. This includes:
- Ace 55
- Better Bush
- Heinz Classic
- Mountain Pride
- and Patio variety tomatoes
Meanwhile, indeterminate tomato varieties tend to spread far and wide from the base of the plant. This means that it is using most of its energy in growing branches, stems, and leaves instead of flowering and eventually bearing large fruit.
Indeterminate tomato plants can grow as tall as 12+ feet, however most are around 6 feet at their tallest and will continue to produce fruit until frost kills them off (or you pull them up..). They will slow down production in the middle of summer in hotter climates and then pick back up as temps go back below scorching – I live in Texas – can you tell? lol
Indeterminate tomatoes need to be staked to stay upright or they will fall over and crawl along the ground.
It’s not recommended that you let them grow on the ground as it makes it harder to harvest, encourages rotting fruit, fungal disease due to poor air flow, and not staking them upright can lead to sunburn or sun scald as they aren’t protected by the shade from the foliage.
Some common examples of indeterminate tomatoes include:
- Big Boy
- Beef Master
- Black Prince
- German Queen
- most cherry tomato varieties
- and most heirloom varieties.
When pruning tomatoes, it’s important to keep in mind why you’re doing it in the first place.
First, you want to have better air circulation to help lessen the likelihood of diseases like tomato blight wreaking havoc on your plants.
Second, you want your plants to yield plumper and bigger fruit.
Third and finally, you want to encourage faster ripening to beat the fall frost.
When properly pruned, indeterminate tomatoes will have less foliage that receives adequate sunlight and is able to make and use food more efficiently. This results in boosted growth and production of fruit.
Pruning Tomatoes the Right Way
The answer to “When should I trim my tomato plants?”, is when you start to see tomato plant suckers.
Suckers or small shoots are new and tiny branches that sprout where a branch meets the side stems of an indeterminate tomato. When left to grow, these can take energy from the rest of the plant which can result in fewer and smaller fruits.
Also if a tomato plant doesn’t have enough airflow it can lead to the spread of diseases, so when you snip sucker branches this will help keep your plant healthy.
What you’re looking for is the small new growth that is BETWEEN where the branch and the main stem of the plant come together. That is what we call a sucker and is how you prune a tomato plant :).
Using tomato cages is a good idea because they help not only with air flow but also with being able to reach the tomato suckers efficiently. Upright tomato plants mean finding the new suckers on leaf stems quicker and easier from the bottom to the top of the plant.
You can remove these with your hand or pruning shears.
Remove Bottom Yellowing Leaves
Yellow leaves tend to use more sugar than it can produce for the plant, so it’s best to snip them off. Apart from helping your tomato plants divert energy and food toward better causes such as growing strong roots and allowing it to produce more fruit, removing the bottom and any yellow leaves helps keep your new plants fresh and safe from diseases like Septoria that causes leaf spots.
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Pinch Off Unnecessary Fruit-Bearing Clusters in Indeterminate Varieties
Choose four to five fruit-bearing trusses and pinch off the rest but leave the plant’s terminal shoot intact. This will result in large and healthy fruit in indeterminate varieties.
When you’re nearing the first frost, it’s important to help your tomato plant direct its energy toward the maturation of remaining fruits.
About 30 days before the frost, remove all the growing tips from your plants so that it can focus its energy on the optimal growth of fruits.
You can pick your tomatoes as soon as you see a hint of color change from green tomatoes to red. Tomatoes continue to ripen after they are picked, so by using the method of harvesting them before they are fully red, you can allow your plants to put more energy into setting more fruit and maturing what’s left.
By harvesting them at this stage you can also take the strain of the weight of tomatoes off the plant and that will allow the plant to not break branches trying to support heavy fruit.
Tomatoes are some of the easiest plants to grow. Most people choose them as a beginner plant to learn to garden or to teach kids. Once they begin fruiting, especially cherry tomato varieties, they almost can’t be stopped or slowed down.
For your plant’s health using the methods of keeping your tomato plants pruned will ensure a bountiful harvest.
What is your favorite types of tomatoes to grow? I love cherry tomatoes, they grow so fast I harvest almost daily all summer.
Leave your comments below and any pictures of your garden, I love to see what you’re up to!
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