To prune, or not to prune? That is the question.
Anyone who has grown tomatoes before will tell you a crop can quickly overtake the garden, especially when growing indeterminate varieties.
While some gardeners choose to leave every leaf and stem intact, there are many valid arguments as to why a little pruning should be done.
I was torn. Last year, I let my gardens go wild, and the result was, well… wild. I couldn’t see the forest through the trees. But my plants still performed quite well.
The book Growing Tomatoes: Your Guide to Growing Delicious Tomatoes at Home, by Jason Johns, helped me make my decision.
Before flowers appear, a tomato plant focuses its efforts on producing leaves. Before you know it, your little seedlings will be 4 or 5 feet high and very bushy.
But too many leaves or axillary stems aren’t necessarily a good thing. They quickly take over, but more importantly, too many leaves mean fewer flowers and fruit. The plant will focus its energy on growing greenery rather than beautiful, plump tomatoes.
Fungus and disease are also more likely for an unpruned plant, as air circulation is poor and any leaves or stems that hang to the ground are more prone to spreading bacteria.
And that’s where the argument for pruning a tomato plant wins. For me, anyway. I’ve babied these precious things far too long to have an unsuccessful crop.
How To Prune
Start by pinching off the tomato plant’s suckers. These are the shoots that develop between a leaf and a stem, essentially sucking valuable energy away from the good stuff.
They tend to snowball out of control, so be sure to check your garden every few days and take them off as they appear.
You can use your fingers to pinch them off gently when they’re small. If they get away from you and grow a little too big, use a clean pair of pruners or a sharp knife to remove them, so you don’t damage the stem in the process.
Beyond the suckers, you want to clear away any side stems and leaves below the first flower/fruit clusters on the vine (especially if they’ve started to yellow).
Trust me; I cringed every time one of the beautiful-looking branches hit the ground. But sometimes, you have to be cruel to be kind.
Clearing things out lower down on the stem will keep diseases at bay, as more air will be able to circulate throughout the plant and leaves will no longer touch the soil.
Pruning The Tops
Matt Mattus, the author of Mastering the Art of Vegetable Gardening, recommends giving tomato plants a bit of a haircut once they’ve grown to the top of your staking material.
The sky is the limit for indeterminate varieties, so manually stopping their growth at a certain point will help them focus on maturing fruit.
Snap off the growing tip just above the highest cluster of flowers or fruit on the plant.
Easy Does It
Don’t go overboard, especially if you live in a warmer climate. A tomato plant still needs a lot of its foliage to survive, and in the blistering heat, the leaves will protect the fruit from burning.
Remember to clean up all of the cut suckers and leaves from around the base of the plant. Leaving them there to decompose will only make your crop more susceptible to pests and diseases.
Need more growing tips? Read Six Ways To Get The Biggest Plants Outdoors for more advice!