You want to grow wonderful tomatoes.
But you’ve heard it’s hard work. There’s this thing called pruning. But you’ve no idea about it.
You’ve heard it’s important. How well your tomatoes grow can depend on it. But what are you supposed to do?
Go through this post and you’ll be well on your way to understand what pruning your tomato plants means.
What is pruning?
A tomato plant uses photosynthesis to produce sugar. And uses this for growing parts of the plant like the stem, leaves, branches, flowers, and fruit.
Suckers are the small branches that grow between the main stem and the side branches. They tend to consume sugar that the plant could use to grow fruits.
That’s why we need to cut them off. The method of pruning helps you get rid of these growths without affecting the plant.
Why does the tomato plant grow suckers?
The indeterminate tomato plant wants to grow as much as possible during the growing season. It wants to produce as many branches, flowers, and fruits as possible.
That’s why it keeps growing the main stem, side stem, and branches out with suckers. The problem is that suckers become weak as the growing season comes to an end.
They end up consuming sugar from the plant but not helping it develop because they’re weak.
Why do you need to prune tomato plants?
Pruning helps the tomato plant get good sunlight on the stronger part at the bottom. This helps it create more sugar using photosynthesis.
More food means the tomato plant grows faster, stronger, and produces better, larger fruits.
Pruning helps keep good space between the foliage. This helps get better airflow through the plant helping leaves to dry faster. This helps avoid bacterial and fungal diseases that thrive in moist environments.
It helps the leaves stay well above the ground. So water and soil can’t splash on the foliage and invite pests and diseases.
Pruning indeterminate tomato plants helps keep them well maintained instead of turning into a jumbled mess.
Pruning helps you save garden space. You can grow more tomato plants in your garden for a better yield.
Pruning before frost hits your garden helps you get the most yield out of your tomato plants before the growing season ends.
Find out whether your tomato plants need pruning
You need to understand the kind of tomato plants you’re growing or want to grow. That’s because not all plants need pruning.
Tomato plants belong to the determinate or indeterminate varieties.
Indeterminate tomato plants grow like vines. They need support to grow vertical and need pruning for the reasons we saw above. Some examples of indeterminate plants are Big Boy, Beef Master, and Black Prince.
Determinate tomato plants grow like a bush. They too can use support but their growth is limited. They grow about 4 to 5 feet and produce fruit at once. Some examples of determinate plants are Ace 55, Better Bush, and Amelia.
Indeterminate plants need pruning because they keep growing new foliage and suckers. Pruning them helps make the fruits grow bigger, keeps the plant strong, and uses less garden space.
Determinate plants don’t need pruning because their growth is limited. And they produce a limited amount of tomatoes. Pruning them would only decrease the tomatoes you can get.
When should you start pruning your tomato plants?
Check the plant for new suckers
Suckers are the small branches that start growing between the main stem and the side stem.
The best thing you can do is prune them as soon as you see them growing. They will be small and succulent so easy to prune without affecting the tomato plant.
Check the plant for flowers
Once your indeterminate tomato plant reaches about 12 to 18 inches in height, it’s getting mature. You’ll start to see flowers start appearing on the plant.
That’s the time you need to check for unwanted suckers and prune them out.
Check the leaves for yellowing
Once flowers start to grow on your tomato plant, check the leaves for yellowing. When the leaves below the first set of flowers turn yellow, prune them out.
What are the different types of pruning?
This method of pruning is useful when the suckers on the tomato plant are young and succulent.
You grab the base of the sucker between your thumb and index finger. Then gently move it back and forth till it breaks.
Don’t worry about damaging the plant because the wound will heal fast.
Don’t try to use scissors or pruners to cut such suckers as the cut takes time to heal. This gives an invitation to pests and diseases to infect the wound.
If the suckers have grown big and rubbery they won’t come off easily. That’s when you can’t use simple pruning.
Missouri pruning means you don’t try to cut the suckers from the base. You pinch the growing tip of the sucker instead.
You leave the portion of the sucker with the leaves and prune just above them. This means the sucker still remains and will grow later. So you need to keep pruning it every few days.
The benefit is you isolate the possibility of disease away from the main stem. Such pruning helps prevent shocking the tomato plant from cutting a fully grown sucker.
And since the foliage will decrease, the plant gets better air circulation and sunlight. This helps the plant produce more sugar with photosynthesis.
How should you prune your tomato plant?
The main idea is to try and remove the suckers from below the first flower cluster. You can even remove the leaves if they’re turning yellow.
If the suckers are young and succulent you can use the simple pruning method. Otherwise, you’ll need to use the Missouri pruning.
Pinch off the branches if there are more than four or five growing on your indeterminate plant.
The four or five are good enough to produce a lot of healthy, big fruits for your needs. Any more and the fruits tend to be small and underdeveloped.
You don’t need to do this for determinate tomato plants as they have a predetermined limit on the branches that will grow.
It’s good to prune off yellow leaves from the tomato plant. They need more sugar than they produce. And it keeps the plant fresh and free from disease.
Remember to prune the main shoot of the tomato plant from the top about 30 days before the first frost date.
This helps the tomato plant focus less on the growth of new branches and leaves. And more on developing the existing fruit.
This means you can get a good harvest of all the remaining fruit before the growing season comes to an end.
Things to be careful about when pruning
Don’t use scissors or pruners when pruning small and succulent suckers. The wounds will not heal fast and can get infected. It’s easier and safer to use your fingers to snap them off.
Don’t prune the determinate tomato plants because they are limited in how much they grow and the fruit they produce.
Don’t over prune the indeterminate tomato plants. You’ll end up shocking the tomato plant. And less foliage means there’s a risk that your tomatoes may get sunscald.
When you’re a beginner, it’s better to under-prune and increase the pruning later based on your experience.
How to support your tomato plants
Providing support to your tomato plants can make the pruning easier for you. You can use support for both determinate and indeterminate tomato plants.
You can use stakes, trellises, cages, ropes to hold the tomato plants in place and encourage growth in the right direction.
The best time to add support to the plants is 2 to 3 weeks after transplant and before you begin pruning.
Stakes are useful as support when you grow single stem plants.
The determinate plants will need 3 to 4 foot long stakes while the indeterminate plants will need stakes that are 5 to 6 feet long.
The stakes can be 1 inch thick made with either wood or metal.
You can train the tomato plant by tying it to the stake support. You can use either garden twine or horticultural tape for this.
The staked tomato plants can be grown as close as 12 inches apart from each other.
Trellises are useful when you want to grow multi-stem plants for more fruit-bearing capacity.
You can have the stakes put into the ground every other plant apart. Then weave a wire mesh around these stakes. You can keep this trellis about 4 inches away from the tomato plants.
As the plants grow, you can support them by tying them to the mesh. To prevent the plants growing wide, you can tie the stems along the cross-wires.
Cages are suitable for multi-stem plants that you’re not growing in a row. It’s better to use square or triangular cages than circular ones.
You should use stakes to keep the cage in place. Otherwise, they could topple over with the weight of the tomato plants and fruits.
Keep pruning the tomato plant so it fits and adapts to growing inside the cage. Prune the top of the plant when it reaches the top of the cage.
Cages are more suitable for determinate variants than indeterminate ones because it’s difficult to prune the suckers while avoiding the main stem and branches.
I hope you now know what pruning means and how you can get started.
You can grow the wonderful tomato plants you want. All you need to do is start and you’re well on your way.
The first step to pruning is to keep a watch on your tomato plants. The moment you see suckers growing from the main stem and branches is your cue.
Start growing and best of luck.