How To Prune Tomato Plants The Right Way

Have you started growing your own tomatoes? Do you want bigger, healthier ones in your garden? Learning how to prune tomato plants the right way can make a huge difference when it comes to their vitality, production, and overall health.

The gardener picks fresh ripe red tomatoes

Pruning tomato plants helps them grow better. If you let them grow as they please, they will become a tangled mess of side shoots, roots, stems, and leaves. Not only is that mess an eyesore, but it also robs the plants of light, nutrients, and air they need for better tomato production. In this article, we will tell you all you need to know about pruning tomatoes the right way!

Why prune your tomato plants?

Without pruning, tomatoes grow into multi-stemmed, shrubby plants that will topple under the weight of their own fruit. Plus, when sprawled on the ground, pests attack the fruit and foliage. Let’s take a look at a few reasons why you should prune your tomato plants.

1. Increased Air Circulation

When you prune your tomatoes, you remove the excess axils of leaves. When the plant is less dense, more air flows among the stems. This allows them to have better access to oxygen and helps them grow into healthy, flourishing plants. Moreover, the green tomatoes will have more sunlight for photosynthesis and they will grow into the red, juicy ones we all love. 

2. Improved Overall Plant Health

It’s a fact that pruned plants dry quickly after rains and are less susceptible to moisture-related diseases. You will also be able to spot pests that will have no place to hide. Thus, pruning improves overall plant health.

3. Better Tomatoes

Tomato plants need a lot of nutrients to grow. However, there are only limited resources in the soil. If you prune the plants at the right time, you will direct energy towards the production and ripening of fruit, instead of creating more leaves.

Even though there will be less fruit on a pruned plant, the fruit will be bigger. When there are less leaves on a plant, the fruit ripens quickly to a juicy red. This is very helpful if you live in regions with short-season climates and early first frost

fresh juicy red tomatoes, ready for harvest

Are you growing determinate or indeterminate tomatoes?

Even though all tomatoes look similar, the plants are divided into two distinct categories. The two types of tomato plants commonly found are as follows.

1. Determinate Tomatoes

Determinate varieties are also known as “bush” tomatoes. They don’t grow beyond a certain length in the growing season. These plants are shrub-like and after a certain length, they stop growing up and grow bushier instead. 

Moreover, they flower and fruit all at once. If you want a lot of tomatoes at one time, you should go with varieties such as Roma, Patio, and Celebrity. Since they are compact plants and produce large fruit in a short period, they need less pruning.

2. Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes, such as Brandywine, Beefsteak, heirloom tomato and cherry tomato varieties, keep on increasing in length and produce fruit throughout the season. The growers are more like wild vines. 

To save space and focus on fruit production, you have to prune them. Staking helps save space as well. If you prune these plants, your plant will produce larger fruit instead of several smaller tomatoes and lots of foliage. 

How to prune your tomato plants step-by-step

So, are you ready to start your pruning project? Let’s start with the tools that you need to gather and then, move on to the simple steps!

Things You Will Need

  • Gloves
  • Small Knife
  • Clean Pair of Pruners

garden tools

Then, depending on the type of plant that you have, here’s what you need to do:

1. Pruning a Determinate Tomato Plant

When your tomato plants are about 30 to 60 cm big, you can prune them. If you prune them when they are smaller, they may not recover from the shock of pruning. The best time to do so is on a dry day, early in the morning

Other than removing the suckers, these plants don’t need pruning. It is better to remove a sucker when it is small because if you wait till they are bigger, there is a risk of stripping the outer layer of the main stem. This will allow fungus and other pests to attack your shrub.

  1. Only remove the suckers below the first flower cluster. If you prune above it, you will be throwing away potential fruit.
  2. From the first fruit cluster to the ground level, you have to pinch all the suckers. Pinch the suckers at their base
  3. After pruning, water the plants at the soil level instead of using sprinklers to keep the soil from getting into the wounds.

2. Pruning an Indeterminate Tomato Plant

There is a fine line between pruning a plant and cutting too much of it, particularly when you are living in a hot climate. Even though tomato plants are generally forgiving, they do require some shade or else they will get sunburn.

  1. Identify the lowest fruit or flower cluster. It will be the one closest to the soil. You have to prune the plant below this point. 
  2. Remove every sucker on the plant other than the lowest one. It is better to use a small knife or pruning shears (make sure that they are sharp) to make a clean cut.
  3. After removing the suckers, you can remove the lower leaves on the plant, usually, the ones that are touching the ground.
  4. If you haven’t set up the trellis or installed tomato cages, you can do it after pruning. Keep your plants trellised to keep them from lying on the ground. 
  5. Over the next few weeks, keep pruning the new tomato suckers off at regular intervals. 
  6. You shouldn’t prune the plants after tomato harvest.

Worker processing the tomatoes bushes in the greenhouse

Bonus gardening tips for tomato pruning

Pruning tomatoes is a very easy task. All you need to do is identify the lowest flower cluster and then carefully remove the remaining suckers. Here are some bonus growing tips for tomato pruning that will make the work even easier for you.

  1. If it just rained, or your tomato plants are wet, you shouldn’t prune them. If there is any disease, such as leaf spot, present in the soil, you will spread it around and all of your plants will get infected.
  2. Even though healthy tomatoes grow back quickly even if you cut them too much, they need some shade to grow. They can get sun damage or sunscald, particularly in hot climates. Therefore, when you prune your plants, leave a little bit of greenery to shade the fruit.
  3. Tomato plants are generally tough and can withstand slight pruning damage. However, make sure that you don’t cut off the growing point or the main stem. Even if you do, things will be okay eventually, but it is better to be careful.
  4. If you are not sure whether you should prune your tomato plants or not, it is okay to prune a few plants and then compare them with the remaining plants throughout the growing season. If you like the results, you can prune all of your plants for the next season.
  5. Mulch the plants right after planting them. As we have discussed earlier, a lot of tomato diseases live in the soil. When it rains, the soil splashes onto the tomato leaves and your plant gets infected. If there is a thick layer of mulch, it will keep the soil from splashing. Moreover, mulch will keep the weeds down, retain moisture, and provide nutrition for the plants. A raised bed will also keep your plants protected. Learn how to build your own raised bed here.

tomatoes inside a greenhouse
We have all heard so much about pruning plants that it seems as if you need to keep a flowchart of the pruning needs of each plant right next to it. However, most perennial and annual plants are not fussy about pruning. Cut it back too short? They will fill it back out very quickly. Didn’t remember to deadhead them? No worries, they will be forgiving. Tomato plants are one of that kind that will forgive you if you go wrong with their pruning needs. However, why risk it, right? Follow the easy, simple, and detailed steps in this article and all your tomato pruning needs will be taken care of!

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