How To Prune Tomato Plants

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This article will teach you how to prune tomato plants.
by Brett · All Zones · Pruning · 5 Comments · August 29, 2010 · 7,887 views

Pruning Tomato Plants

Many think that pruning tomatoes is not necessary, or they've never heard about doing it. Pruning tomatoes is optional unless, of course, you want the best tomatoes.

Prune Tomatoes

The Importance of Pruning And Staking Tomato Plants

Though they are separate tasks, pruning and staking go together. If you prune your plants and prize tomatoes appear, but the plants are not staked, your plants won't be able to hold the weight and will fall to the ground. All of the leaves will not receive the needed sunlight and the plants will run a high risk of disease. On a perfect tomato plant, every leaf can receive sunlight. Problem is, when the leaves fill with sugar, leaf stems begin to branch off from the main stem. Eventually the leaf stems fill with sugar and begin to flower. Tomatoes begin to grow, enjoying a healthy flow of sugar. But when tomatoes begin to form on the leaf stems, the plant produces side-shoots, which appear between the main stem and the tomato-bearing leaf stem. This creates two problems:

The first problem is that every new growth diverts sugar. So now the growing tomatoes are only enjoying a portion of the healthy sugar available. The results will be smaller fruits. The second problem is that side-shoots suck up sugar to produce a mass of unworthy leaves that block leaves that would otherwise produce nice-sized tomatoes. Left alone, the side-shoots will become leaf stems, which will bear more side-shoots. This process continues until your tomato plants are too dense to produce healthy tomatoes.

Pruning Side-shoots

Obviously, the side-shoots need to be removed. First, decide how many fruit-bearing leaf stems you want your plants to have. Each of your main leaf stems will bear flowers and fruit, but make sure they are all at least one foot from the ground. Any lower and the fruit or leaves will touch the dirt, attract bugs and slugs, and potentially damage your plant. Throughout the growing season, pinch off any side-shoots that appear any lower than a foot above the ground.

The best time to remove side-shoots is when they are about 3 to 4 inches long, using your fingers to pinch them off. Plants can be pruned with your fingers. You want to remove enough leaves so that the area around the base of the plant does not look crowded. However, you must also leave enough leaves to cover your growing fruit. If you do not have some foliage covering the tomato fruits, they can sun scald.

About a month before the first frost for your area, remove the side-shoots as usual. But this time remove any flowers as well. They will not have time to bloom and will only rob energy from the final harvest.

If all this pruning stuff sounds too scary to you, grow a test plant or two to practice on, while leaving others you are growing alone...as you might usually have grown them in the past. And remember, when it comes to growing healthy tomato plants and plump tomatoes: Practice makes perfect!


Dwayne Bramlett

Dwayne Bramlett · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Thanks for answer my question about tomatoes it was very helpful

7 years ago ·
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Dwayne Bramlett

Dwayne Bramlett · Gardenality Seed · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
How do you keep tomatoes from cracking open?

7 years ago ·
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Gardenality.com

Gardenality.com · Gardenality Genius · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
The best way to prevent tomatoes from splitting or cracking is to keep your watering methods regular and consistent. It is better to water the tomatoes deeply at regular intervals rather than sporadic shallow waterings. Adjust the amount of watering you do to the amount of rainfall received. A good natural soaking rain usually lasts longer than a hose watering with treated water, unless you are watering with natural water from a well which would be equivalent to a natural rain. When "determinate" tomatoes start to ripen you can greatly reduce the amount of watering to reduce the chances of cracking. Determinate tomatoes are ones that produce heavliy all at once - at a "determined time." Or you can just pick them early and allow them to ripen indoors. Another thing that can cause tomatoes to crack is over feeding when they are starting to ripen. I use a slow-release, mild organic tomato food to fertilize tomato plants. Also, there are some tomato varieties that are "crack resistant." You could look for and plant these varieties. But, still, follow regular watering practices and avoid over feeding. If you pick tomatoes right when you see their skin start to crack, they are still okay to eat. If the tomatoes are left on the plant and the cracks are severe, to be safe rather than sorry I would suggest not eating these.

7 years ago ·
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Victoria Blocker

Victoria Blocker · Gardenality Stem · Zone 9B · 25° to 30° F
Thanks for this article, Brent- very informative. Question for you- I have planted a variety of heirloom totato called Banana Legs, which my local gardening shop described as being a 'flopper' that likes to hang over the sides. They said that if I staked it (which I did) it could hang over and do well. It's not quite long enough to reach the sides of the stand. Given your comments in your article on having the fruit laying in the dirt, I'm wondering what I should do- let them flop until they are long enough to reach, or just try to guide them up. It's already bearing fruit. Any ideas? Thanks so much!

7 years ago ·
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Gardenality.com

Gardenality.com · Gardenality Genius · Zone 8A · 10° to 15° F
Victoria - I haven't grown the Banana Legs tomato, however know that it's one of the "Thom" varieties, meaning it's a bush type that will cascade. I have grown other Thom-types. I always plant them in containers where they can tumble over the side without the fruit touching the ground. If planted in the ground, to avoid soil borne disease and rot, I'd probably attach their branches to a trellis or some type of tomato cage to keep fruit and foliage from making contact with the soil. To avoid broken branches, I would tie a branch up when it had put on some length but before it "flopped" and the branch is bent. Once it flops it might be more difficult to tie up without causing damage to the branch. Hope this answered your question. - Brent

7 years ago ·
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