How To Prune Tomatoes

Pruning your tomatoes is simple once you know what you are doing. But if you are starting out growing your own, it can be a daunting task filled with jargon you don’t understand.

So let me help out and show you easily how to prune your own tomatoes properly.

Determintae V Indeterminate

Essentially there are two types of tomatoes, ones that need pruning and ones that don’t.

Determinate tomatoes are also known as bush tomatoes. They are much more compact than indeterminate tomatoes and don’t require pruning or training. They will grow into a bush and set their fruit all at once.

Indeterminate tomatoes are vining tomatoes. They will keep growing taller and taller until killed by frost. These do require pruning.

Many common tomatoes we grow are Indeterminate, but some are determinate. Some of the more popular determinate tomatoes are tumbling tom and Roma. Be aware that it is not only cherry tomatoes that can be determinate.

You can find out whether the variety you are growing is determinate with a quick Google search or check the seed packet – it’s often on there somewhere.

Removing Sideshoots

Removing side shoots is an ongoing basic tomato maintenance job.

You will often hear this referred to as pinching out. This is because you ideally pinch out the side shoots when they are young, often with your fingernails.

A Sucker
A Sucker

Just nip these little shoots out while they are young. You can use your hands, scissors, secateurs or a nice sharp knife; anything will do.

Why Do We Do This?

Rather than just telling you what to do, I think it helps to explain why we do certain things as gardeners.

Pinching out the side shoots stops your tomato plant from growing too bushy.

If left unchecked, tomato plants like to grow lots of foliage and fewer fruits, as we are only growing them for the fruits, then this is obviously not ideal.

An overgrown sucker
An overgrown sucker

You can see above that a sucker will quickly grow into a full-blown stem!

Removing all of the side shoots is known as growing the plant up a single leader.

All this means is it has one main stem all the way up. You can train them to two leaders by allowing one side shoot to grow into a second stem, and three by allowing a third stem to form etc.

I recommend starting with a single leader if this is your first year gardening, then experimenting with allowing more next year to find what gives you your biggest harvest.

Remove Aged Leaves

The next job is removing the plant’s lower, older leaves. Just snip them off near to the stem and then throw the leaves on the compost heap.

Why Do We Do This?

The lower leaves on your plant aren’t doing much anymore. Almost all of the photosynthesis happens in the young, new leaves near the top of the plant.

By tidying them up and removing the older leaves, we allow more light in at the bottom of the plant; this is important if we are growing close together or have another crop like basil growing underneath our tomatoes.

The leaves also suck up water but don’t do much for the plant. By removing the lower leaves, we reduce the amount of water your plant needs.

This means it can go longer without watering and is less prone to blossom end rot.

Removing the lower leaves also increases airflow around the plant, minimizing the risk of fungal infections.

Another added benefit is that it helps to make spotting pests on your plant much easier.

Snip off the lower leaves
Snip off the lower leaves

Cutting Leaves In Half

This is something I often do lower down the plant if it has any huge leaves.

Making the leaves smaller reduces the amount of water loss, meaning you need to water less, and your plants can survive dry spells.

It also helps open the plant up, reduce the disease risk, and make pest spotting easier.

And it also helps let more light into any plants growing under your tomatoes, I like to grow basil here.

It is very similar to removing the leaves but not as drastic; if your plant has put out some monster leaves, try this trick.

Chopping a leaf in half
Chopping a leaf in half

Topping The Plant

Topping the plant is when you remove the growing tip late in the season. You snip the whole top section of the plant out so it will no longer grow upwards.

Why Do We Do This?

Well, as it actually happens, I don’t do this, but many other growers do. So let’s talk about the pros and cons.

Your tomato plant will keep on growing until colder weather comes in and kills it off. Any unripe tomatoes that are still on the plant at this point will need to be harvested while they are still green.

Topping the plant stops it from putting its energy into growing upwards and instead into developing all of the fruit already on the plant.

The tradeoff is that you won’t get any more tomatoes by topping the plant. But the ones on the plant already will be bigger and more likely to ripen fully.

By letting the plant continue to grow, you will get more tomatoes but are much more likely to end up with a bunch of unripe green tomatoes.

How many more tomatoes you get depends on the weather at the back end of the season, and is a guessing game.

Green tomatoes can still be used and make great chutneys, among other things, which is why I just let my plants grow and then harvest all the green tomatoes once the plant has died.

Before/After Pruning

I let this tomato plant get away from me a bit, for the purposes of writing this article of course…

Here is the before and after shot of the pruning. I included this to show you that you can remove quite a bit of foliage – don’t be afraid to get stuck in!

Before and After
Before and After

Removing Leaves Around Fruit

I have left this one for last, as whether you should do it depends on where you are.

If you are in a colder climate with less sun, then removing the leaves that are shading your fruit can help speed up their ripening and is generally good advice.

However, if you are somewhere like Texas, then you definitely shouldn’t be doing this, as the sun will scold your tomatoes and damage them.

So this one is all down to your location!

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