When growing tomatoes, pruning them can be done at any time of the year but should be avoided a month before the harvest, as it may reduce yields. Pruning tomatoes can become problematic if you overthink it. There is no one right way to do it. So we’ve put together our step-by-step guide on how to prune tomatoes without damaging them!
In this article, you will learn:
Why Prune Tomatoes
Pruning a tomato plant is not an essential chore, but it is recommended for better crop yield and for controlling the plant’s growth. Here are a few reasons for pruning tomatoes.
- Easier Plant Control. When a tomato plant is grown on a stake, the number of stems that may be attached to that stake is limited. So, tomato pruning is performed to keep the plant from sprawling and to control its growth.
- Larger fruit production. When a tomato plant grows, it directs its energy to grow new branches. By pruning them, the plant will divert its energy towards bigger fruit production rather than dense foliage. You might get less fruit from a pruned plant, but the size of the fruit will be much bigger.
- Encouraging better airflow. Removing some of the leaves and pruning off suckers will promote better airflow between plants. This way, the plants will dry quickly after rain.
- Minimizing the risk of soil-borne diseases. Most tomato diseases are soil-born such as septoria and early blight. When the foliage touches the ground, it is prone to several bacterial, viral, and fungal infections that may spread to the whole plant. By staking and removing the branches that are touching the ground, you’ll minimize the risk of soil-borne diseases to your tomato plants.
- Early ripening and bigger fruits. The plant with dense foliage and too many fruits will delay fruit ripening. However, a pruned tomato plant bears less fruit. However, it directs its energy toward bigger fruits and promotes the early development of these fruits.
How to Prune A Tomato Plant
Now that you know why tomato pruning is performed, let us tell you how to prune your tomato plants!
There are many different types of tomato pruning methods. You can change them as you go but always prune your tomatoes with clean, sharp shears to avoid infecting and tearing the stems.
Tomatoes are forgiving plants, so don’t worry too much if you pruned something that you shouldn’t have pruned. Also, don’t curse yourself too much if you prune a branch with a flower cluster or even a branch with a half-grown fruit cluster… We have all been there!
Here’s Our Step by Step Guide
Step 1. Prune tomatoes when replanting from the container into your garden. Bottom tomato leaves must be removed as they might touch the ground. If leaves stay on the ground for too long, they may catch a soil-borne disease and damage the entire plant. Cut back any leaves that are near the soil throughout the tomato growing season.
Step 2. Remove dead leaves and stems from your plants to ensure all branches have access to sunlight. This will help ensure that the tomato plants grow strong and produce more fruit.
Step 3. You should also remove suckers (side shoots) throughout the growing season. Pruning suckers will help you have larger tomatoes.
Step 4. Prune off leaves that are crossing each other and those growing towards the center of the plant.
Step 5. Once flowering starts, remove leaves, limiting light access for fruiting stems at the bottom of plants where most fruits form first.
Step 6. Prune your tomatoes until they begin to fruit. This will help you increase the yield as well as improve quality and taste!
Topping: When the tomato fruits are close to ripening at the end of the growing season, trim the plant’s terminal shoots. This is called topping tomato plant. As a result of topping, the plant diverts its energy to encourage the early ripening of fruits.
Pro Tip: Sterilize tools that have been used on diseased plants before using them on healthy ones!
When Not To Prune Tomatoes
- You should not prune tomato plants a month before harvest because it may reduce yields.
- Too much pruning at once can damage plants. Only prune enough to maintain a healthy plant.
- Over-pruning will make it harder for plants to photosynthesize.
- Too much pruning can reduce fruit size and the number of fruits and increase the chances of disease.
- You should not prune tomato plants when they are wet because this can spread disease from one branch to another.
- Avoid pruning the nearest leaves that are directly above and below the fruit. The leaves above the fruit prevent sunscald. The leaves below the fruit help in fruit ripening by sending sugars.
- Do not prune tomato plants if it is a determinate variety.
What Type of Tomatoes Need Pruning?
Before you start pruning, you need to identify your tomato plant varieties. There are two types of tomato varieties: Indeterminate and Determinate.
Most of the pruning is for indeterminate tomato varieties, as they continue to grow taller and reach 10 to 12 feet. Sometimes you will need to prune determinate plants also. Just the bottom leaves so they wouldn’t touch the ground.
Several characteristics distinguish determined tomato varieties from undetermined ones.
Indeterminate tomato plants (grow like vines)
- Indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow throughout the season like vines.
- Indeterminant plants produce fruits in flushes or “hands.”
- Indeterminant tomato varieties continue to grow throughout the season and must be pruned and staked.
Determinate tomato plants (grow like shrubs)
- Determinate tomatoes will grow to a specific size and then will stop growing.
- Determinates plants will only flower and fruit once in each flush.
- Determinate tomato varieties grow to a specific size and stop growing when they reach that point. Therefore, they don’t need to be pruned or staked.
Identify your tomato plant variety by reading the seed pack and whether the variety is determinate or indeterminate.
Tips to Train Tomato Plants
- Stake tomato plants. It is essential to provide support so they do not fall over.
- If you are using stakes to support your tomato plants, remove all the suckers and leave only 1 or 2 main stems. This way, the sturdy stem will be easier to handle when tied to the support.
- If you’re using tomato cages or tomato towers, pinch off the leaves closer to the ground. It will maintain good air ventilation to prevent soil-borne diseases. You can also pinch some leaves from the center of the plant to maintain good airflow.
Important Final Note! Remove foliage, fruits, and stems that appear diseased or pest-infested first when pruning a tomato plant or any other plant. Then sanitize your equipment and wash your hands to prevent the spread of any pests or diseases.
What to do Next?
Now that we’ve covered everything, there’s no need to worry about how to prune tomatoes anymore! Just remember the differences between determinate and indeterminate varieties. Choose which variety works best for your garden, and then get started.
If you are looking for more tomato growing tips, check out our How to Grow Tomatoes – Easy Step By Step Guide to learn more.
Also, check out our Gardening How To articles!
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