How do you go about pruning tomatoes to increase yield? You will be surprised by the number of people who don’t know how to do it.
First, you are going to need to learn or re-check a few things.
Step 1. You need to figure out if you have indeterminate tomato plants or not,
Step 2. Find out if you got the right tools for the task at hand,
Step 3. You’ll need to know where to cut to maximize the harvest.
If you are new to growing in gardening, let me remind you of the different types of tomatoes you can buy, grow.
Major Tomato Varieties
When you purchase a tomato plant from a nursery, the container label should identify the plant as either determinate or indeterminate.
Let’s discover the most popular varieties of the market. Here are the common ones of each:
In this category, you have:
- Big Boy,
- Beef Master,
- Black Prince,
- German Queen,
- most cherry tomato varieties
- and most heirloom varieties.
Pruning indeterminate can help to keep the huge or high vines in control and encourage the plants to produce tomatoes large enough for your classic BLT sandwich or your tomato salads.
These varieties are often referred to as “bush” tomatoes because they do not continue expanding in length (upwards) throughout the season.
Cultivate a determinate variety, such as Roma, is essential when you want a lot of tomatoes at one time for either freezing or canning.
Note, these are ideal for making tomato sauces.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
If you are new to vegetable gardening, and you’re cultivating indeterminate tomato plants, you must be ready to give some weekly love in order to help them thrive and produce larger tomatoes.
The determinate needs much less work, as it develops low and wider.
So, here below, you’ll find the main reasons to prune indeterminate tomato plants.
Read this post if you are starting a garden: How to start your vegetable garden.
Pruning tomatoes first, suckers-How and Why?
There are multiple reasons for pruning tomatoes. The main reason to prune tomatoes is to keep the plants free from potential and unwanted diseases and bugs and pest problems. It also helps keep the plant healthy and green.
Then it will also improve fruit quality because all energy is redirect to the truss that later will produce a fruit. Specially if you are planting indeterminate ones.
Pruning tomatoes should be done once a week by pinching off the main “suckers” in the “V” shape of the main stem and branches (See below picture).
The image above shows where to cut and pinch new branches. See the pic and follow the exact same steps by removing suckers (new shoots growing in between leaf and stem) reduces yields, and will allow a better airflow.
These non-hardy perennials will develop themselves after 5-6 weeks new growth in-between the main stem and already big branches.
These additional growths are known as “suckers“, and to fully grow they need to suck nutrients from the developing tomato plant. In other words, new tiny branches.
Leave the sucker just below the first flower cluster (remove all other suckers below that one), and allow all suckers above the first flower cluster to grow further.
We call: “pinch tomato plants” is caring with affection.
Hint: If the suckers have grown too large they should be cut with pruning shears, carefully, so that the plant is not damaged. These suckers are great to add to your compost pile.
What part of the tomato plant should be pruned?
Here are a few tips to get your plants ready to spread quicker and healthier:
- When growing tomatoes in a greenhouse border as single-stemmed cordons, anchor the string right beneath the root ball when planting it. Then attach it to an overhead wire. Tip: if planting in a growing bag, loop it to the string under the bag instead.
- Tie the stems to the strings as they shoot, or simply twist the string round the stem (or use canes).
- Snap off all side-shoots from the base of the leaves (see pic above) when they reach 2 cm long.
Additional Tomato Pruning Tips for Indeterminate Plant
In addition to removing the suckers, the best practice for pruning tomatoes plants is – to use a small clipper (aka clippers) to remove other unnecessary branches.
For example, the leaves that are below the first cluster (see pic above) of fruit are not necessary for the plant’s survival. Therefore, the very lower branches can be removed.
Also, if your indeterminate plant starts to become taller than you would like (over 165 cm), it’s maybe time to chop the top branch off to reduce its height.
Once all the fruit has ripened and been removed from the stem, the leftover stems can be cut off as well.
When should tomatoes be pruned?
Determinate tomatoes also known as bush tomatoes don’t need much pruning as they grow on average up to 3 and a half to 4 feet maximum. And they naturally stop growing any further.
The indeterminate tomato plant pruning for instance must be done at the end of the season, at lower level. Target the lower leaves and or suckers at the bottom of tomato plants.
The main reason for this and the benefits of this practice is that it will facilitate and improve airflow, which in return may help reduce foliar diseases.
If you grow tomatoes in your backyard early or before spring, remember to cover them or move the tomato plants to the greenhouse, due to lower temperatures at night.
Continuous care is needed, specially watering, sun and shade and pruning, is good for the plant’s survival. Remember to feed your tomatoes properly, will produce large, flavorful tomatoes. It will also be producing abundantly until the temperatures drop, if of course it is an indeterminate tomato variety.
About 4 weeks prior to the first frost, it is recommended to pruning tomatoes suckers and its new flowers be cut off the plant. But don’t over prune the plant.
This will also allow the plant to focus on ripening the fruit that is currently hanging on the plant’s branches much quicker, to ensure you are able to harvest the tomatoes before it freezes outside.
If you have a surplus, you can freeze them after taking the seeds out and save them for next year, so you don’t have to buy again.
Read our Companion planting for more ideas.
Happy Tomato Pruning and let us know your results!