I am growing tomato plants in my garden and wanted to know if I need to top the plants. This post contains my research on why you should top your tomato plants and how to do it.
You should top your tomato plants because it will help grow bigger tomatoes and more of them. It will prevent the tomato plant from growing tall and developing a weak stem. And it will help the roots provide nutrients to all parts of the plant.
Topping your tomato plants has a lot of benefits but you should know when is the right time to do this. You should also top the plant with the right technique so you don’t end up putting the tomato plant under stress.
Why should you top tomato plants?
You can get tomato plants that are of the determinate or indeterminate variety. The determinate variety of tomato plants may only grow up to 4 feet tall and stop growing further.
The indeterminate variety will grow 6 feet tall and continue to grow. They are of the vine variety and will grow as long as the growing season continues.
You should not top the determinate tomato plants as this will cause them to develop less fruit. You should only top the indeterminate tomato plants as this provides several benefits.
1. Tomato plant will become stronger
I find that topping the tomato plant helps it develop more branches which improves the strength and stability of the plant.
The main benefit of topping a tomato plant is to keep the plant within a certain height. If you’re using a stake, cage, or trellis to support the tomato plants, you don’t want them to grow beyond that.
If the tomato plants grow higher than their support, the wind will cause the top of the plant to snap and fall off. If large tomatoes are growing on such a plant, it will break due to the weight of the fruits.
2. Tomato plant will produce more tomatoes
If the tomato plant vines grow too much, the roots will not be able to send enough nutrients to the entire plant. This will weaken the plant and cause poor fruit development.
When you top the tomato plant, the plant can focus its energy on growing fruit. This means your tomato plant will give you more fruits that are bigger in size. The tomatoes will also ripen faster.
3. Tomato plant will be easier to maintain
It’s a lot easier to maintain a tomato plant that has limited height than one that is always growing. You may need to use a ladder to take care of it.
It’s easier to harvest the tomatoes, prune the tomato plant, and monitor the plant for any pest or disease problems.
I asked fellow gardeners what do they think about the benefits of topping tomato plants. Below are the results of the poll. 56% thought that it’s really beneficial to save plant energy for ripening in the fall. Interestingly, 11% felt that the best yields come when the tomato plants are not topped.
Are there any drawbacks on topping tomato plants?
I think there’s only one major problem you may find in topping tomato plants. It’ll be the ongoing effort during the life of the tomato plant.
You’ll need to monitor the indeterminate tomato plant and top it every month or two during it’s growing phase to get the benefits of the topping.
So, if you’re a busy gardener, you’ll need to make it part of your schedule to also top the tomato plants in the garden.
My suggestion is to include it as part of your daily plant monitoring checklist. If you find that your tomato plant has grown way taller or longer than the cage, trellis, or stake, it’s time to top the plant.
When should you top tomato plants?
The best time to top determinate tomato plants is when they have grown taller than their supporting stake, cage, or trellis. This will protect the top of the plants from the wind causing them to snap.
o top the tomato plants if there are a lot of tomatoes growing and it’s growing very tall. The plant will topple over with the weight of the fruit so it’s best to trim it down.
Once frost hits the tomato plant, it will cause the leaves and tomatoes to freeze and die. You need to make sure to harvest as many tomatoes as possible before the first frost hits after fall.
You can top the tomato plants about 45-60 days before the growing season is coming to an end and it will get cold. This will make your tomato plants focus on growing new tomatoes rather than new foliage.
How to cut off tomato plant tops?
You need to use the right technique to cut off the tomato plant tops. This will ensure you don’t prune off more than what you need. And avoid giving too much stress to the tomato plant.
The idea is to cut the top of the main stem which is the thick trunk of the tomato plant. You also want to cut off any suckers near the top. These are the offshoots that grow between a branch and the main stem.
Make sure to use a clean pair of gardening pruners that have been sanitized with rubbing alcohol. This will help prevent viruses and bacteria from infecting the plant where you cut.
Follow the main stem till you reach the topmost flower or fruit cluster. You need to cut the stem right behind the flower or fruit cluster. This makes the cluster as the top of the stem.
You need to make sure to cut off any suckers near the top of the stem. This prevents them from developing into a new stem.
Don’t cut the leaves that may be near the top of the stem. These will give the tomato plant energy to continue growing flowers and fruits.
The best routine is to cut the top of the tomato plants every week. This will keep the plants in the best shape, focusing on growing more of the flowers and tomatoes. And focusing less on growing new foliage.
Should you pinch back tomato plants?
You should pinch back determinate tomato plants as it helps the overall plant and fruit development.
Pinching means taking out leaves, suckers, and even flowers to improve the overall development of the tomato plant.
When the tomato seedlings have grown 4-6 inches in height, you can pinch off the lower leaves. This encourages the tomato plant to spend energy on growing more foliage making the plant grow faster.
When the tomato plants have grown a bit larger, you can continue pinching some of the leaves to encourage further foliage development.
Suckers are the offshoot that grows between the branch and the main stem. You should pinch off these suckers as well. This encourages the main stem to grow thicker and stronger.
This does mean that you will have fewer tomato fruits developing on the plant. But the tomatoes will be big and flavorful.
It’s best to pinch off suckers when they are small and young as this will be easy to do. You can use your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the sucker. You may need to gently move the sucker if it does not pinch off easily.
Using your fingers is the easiest and safest way to pinch off the suckers. The wound will heal fast and has less chance of infection (do remember to wash your hands before you do so).
If the suckers are mature, they won’t be easy to pinch off with your fingers. You need to use a sanitized pruning shear to pinch them off the plant.
You should also remove the first few flowers from the tomato plant. This helps the plant focus it’s energy on growing foliage and root development.
Around 45-60 days before the first frost date, you should start pinching off the leaves, suckers, and any flowers from the plant. This helps the tomato plant focus on growing and ripening the existing tomatoes.
You’ll be able to harvest the tomatoes before the frost can arrive and harm the plant and fruits making them unsuitable for consumption.
When should I pinch my tomato flowers?
You should pinch the tomato flowers when they are the first blooms on the plant in spring. You might have started the plants from seed or bought a seedling.
Whatever be the case, if the tomato plant has first blooms, you need to pinch them off. This helps the tomato plant focus its energy on growing stronger roots and foliage.
The stronger roots will help in developing healthier plants and protection from the elements like the wind.
The flowers will not even pollinate when the temperatures are below 70 degrees Fahrenheit because it’s not suitable. The insects required for pollination are not around at low temperatures.
However, if you’re growing the tomato plant in summer after starting seeds or transplanting a seedling, you need to keep the flowers.
This is the right time for the flowers to pollinate and develop fruit. You don’t want the plant to waste all the effort it spent growing those flowers that would be potential tomatoes.
You should also pinch the flowers 45-60 days before the first frost date as there’s not much point in them developing just as frost will hit and kill the plant.
Here are some of my favorite container gardening tools
Thank you for reading this post. I hope it helps you with your gardening needs. I’ve listed some tools below that can help you with container gardening. These are affiliate links so I’ll earn a commission if you use them.
Gardening Gloves – I find the Pine Tree Tools Bamboo Gardening Gloves really good for both men and women. It’s made from bamboo so helps absorb perspiration. They are also comfortable and fit very well.
Containers – You know picking the right container is crucial for your container gardening. I’ve written a detailed post on the best containers you can choose from. If you’re happy with a plastic container, you can check out the Bloem Saturn Planter.
Watering Can – This is a must-have tool when you’re growing plants in pots or grow bags. It helps to water the potting soil without splashing on the foliage. The Kensington Watering Can is stylish, strong, and can provide precision when watering potted plants.
Trowel – Garden Guru Trowel is my favorite because it’s durable and comfortable to use. My gardening friends really love having a trowel because they use it for digging soil, mixing fertilizer, moving seeds, leveling out the soil, mixing compost or mulch, and also dividing tubers
Bypass Pruner – I really like the Corona Bypass Pruner because it’s durable and gives a clean cut that helps plants recover faster. If you’re looking for something cheap, get the Fiskars Bypass Pruner that is really good as well.
To see an extensive list of the best container gardening tools gardeners recommend, check out this resource that I made for you.
Kevin is the founder of Gardening Mentor, a website that aims to teach people to grow their own food in a limited space. As a self-taught gardener, Kevin has spent several years growing plants and creating gardening content on the website. He is certified in Home Horticulture and Organic Gardening by expert gardeners from Oregon State University.