How do I prune tomato plants for the maximum yield?
Left on their own, tomatoes will grow into shrubby, multi-stemmed plants that topple under the weight of their fruit. When fruit and foliage are spread on the ground, they are more vulnerable to pests and disease. Pruning and utilizing plant supports may help tomato plants become healthier and more productive.
Advantages to pruning:
- Keep plants compact and prevent sprawl.
- Tomato Ladders and other supports make it simple to support plants.
- Maximize production.
- Improve air circulation to reduce illness concerns.
Suckers are sprouts that originate when side branches and stems meet.
Tradeoffs when pruning:
- It takes away the leaves that would otherwise nourish the plant.
- Removing foliage can expose fruit to sunscald.
How to Prune
Depending on the variety of tomato and the support system used, there are numerous techniques to prune tomato plants. As a rule, pruning is most helpful for indeterminate tomato varieties — large plants that continue to grow taller and produce fruit until killed by frost. Determinate, or bush, tomatoes are smaller and easier to grow.
Most tomato pruning involves removing suckers — the shoots that form in the axils where side branches meet the stem. Suckers may be removed while they are little by pinching them off or snipping them with pruners.
Pruning suckers minimally will help you optimize your crop. A good compromise is to remove all suckers that grow below the first flower cluster. This strengthens the primary sustaining stem but does not remove top suckers that will ultimately produce blooms and fruit.
Prune carefully if you reside in a location where the summer heat is harsh, since this might create sunscald on fruits (fruit with tough, thickened skin and discolored areas).
Pruning is beneficial to plants grown on Tomato Ladders and other narrow supports.
To improve ripening, prune tomatoes late in the season.
If you have limited garden space or are using tomato ladders or stakes to support your plants, reduce your tomatoes to one or two main stems. Pinch out all suckers to do this. Otherwise, suckers will develop into new stems, resulting in a broad, bushy plant. The remaining main stems will grow strong and sturdy and will be easier to secure to the supports’ uprights with plant ties.
Gardeners who use Tomato Cages or Tomato Towers to support their plants will frequently pinch off suckers on the lower stems while allowing suckers higher up on the plant to thrive.