How to Prune Tomato Plants in 5 Steps

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When you take good care of your tomato plants by properly feeding them with the right nutrients, water, and sunlight, they will grow like wildfires. At first thought, this sounds amazing! But upon closer examination, you’ll find that too much foliage gets in the way of watering and feeding, blocks out sunlight and air flow, and steals away nutrients from your tomatoes. Keep reading to learn how to prune tomato plants and why you should.

Benefits of Pruning Tomato Plants

  • Bigger and plumper tomatoes.
  • To prevent disease.
  • Healthier tomato plant.
  • To speed growth.
  • Easier maintenance.
  • Aesthetics.

As you can see, pruning is an important part of gardening. If you want to learn how to prune tomato plants, keep reading for an easy to follow guide.

What You’ll Need

The right tools will prevent any accidental damage to your tomato plant and provide you with protection from the mild toxin that may irritate your skin.

  • A sharp pair of hand pruning shears.
  • A long-sleeve shirt.
  • Gloves.
  • Stake or wire cage or veggie cage.
  • Plant ties, garden twine or cloth.
  • Hammer.

How to Prune Tomato Plants

1. Get Rid of Suckers

Suckers are small, new branches that usually sprout where the branch meets the stem. Suckers don’t have fruit growing from them which is why it’s good to get rid of them. If you leave them to grow, they will take away nutrients from your tomatoes.

To remove a sucker, all you have to do is snap them off with pruning shears. Alternatively, you can grab the base of the sucker with your thumb and forefinger and bend it side to side until it snaps.

You should look for and get rid of suckers frequently. It’s best to take care of them before they grow and create a bigger problem. If you see suckers that are thicker than a pencil,  leave them be. Remove some of the leaves from the sucker instead of the entire thing. If you remove a thick sucker you may damage the entire plant.

2. Remove Stems and Leaves below the Cluster

If you live in a humid area or if you’re growing your tomatoes in a greenhouse, it’s very important that you complete this step. Improve ventilation and prevent sickness and disease of your plants by removing unnecessary stems and leaves below the first flower cluster. This newfound space will also allow you to have better access to your plants to inspect, water and fertilize.

This step is only necessary for indeterminate varieties of tomato plants such as Big Boy, German Queen, Beefmaster, Bonnie, Black Prince and most heirloom tomatoes. Indeterminate varieties are more like tall-growing vines when compared to determinate varieties which grow low to the ground like short bushes.

3. Get Rid of Yellow Leaves

When you notice yellow leaves, take it as a sign that it’s time for you to prune. Leaves turn yellow because they use more sugar than they produce. Yellow leaves will eventually wilt so clip these off whenever you catch them to keep your plant fresh and healthy.

4. Take Care of the Trusses

The branches that you find growing from the main stem right above the first flower cluster is called a truss. For large, plump tomatoes, the ideal number of trusses to have is four or five. Any more than this and you will end up with small, undesirable tomatoes.

Pick out your four to five strong trusses and discard the remaining branches. This is another step that should only be done for indeterminate varieties. Do not clip any branches from determinate types or you’ll ruin your plant!

5. Support Your Plant

We couldn’t explain how to prune tomato plants without reviewing how to support your plant. The best pruning could prove pointless if your plants don’t get the right support. Indeterminate tomato plants can potentially grow up to eight feet in a season! By learning how to properly prune your plant, you are sure to have big, healthy tomatoes. Your plant will surely need some support and because of this, staking or caging your plant is a must. Even though it’s best to create a support system when you first plant your tomatoes to avoid damaging any roots, it’s better late than never.

5.1 Staking

Tomato plant and stake

If your tomato plant is visibly leaning in any direction, push your stake into the ground next to the plant on the side it’s leaning toward. If your plant isn’t leaning, just use a close location to the plant.

Once your stake is pushed down far enough for you to easily hammer it in, begin using your hammer to secure the stake into the ground. Keep pushing until the stake is about a foot to a foot and a half into the dirt.

Now that your stake is secured into the ground next to your plant, cut a piece of your plant tie. Cut more than you need so you don’t accidentally cut too little. Tie a couple pieces around the main stem to the stake where your plant forks with branches.

5.2 Caging

tomato plant and cage

Wire cages are extremely simple to install but may be too small for mature tomato plants. If you’ve decided to go with a wire cage, all you have to do is bend the legs outward a bit then stick them into the ground. You may need to run a stake between the cage for more support as the plant’s weight might topple the cage over.

Veggie cages are more fit for tomato plants than wire cages since they are tall enough to support mature plants. While this is true, you should run a stake through the cage and train your plant to grow within this space.

Depending on how many plants you have and your preferences, you may even decide to go with a tomato trellis or fencing to support your plants.

Summary

Learning how to prune tomato plants isn’t difficult as long as you know what to look for. Determinate varieties, however, should not be pruned or you will damage your plant and end up with few tomatoes. As soon as you transplant your tomato plant into the ground you should begin pruning periodically. You’ll know it’s time to prune when you see lots of foliage, yellow leaves and or suckers.

To prune your indeterminate tomato plant, get rid of suckers, yellow leaves, extra branches below the cluster and unnecessary trusses. Make sure your plant is secure and adjust as needed. Pruning doesn’t take much time at all and with these easy directions, you’ll be pruning like a pro in no time!

Jonathan E. Bass
 

Graduated from Middle Tennessee State University. I am currently a gardener. I have a small garden behind my house. I love it.

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