Pruning. That’s a fancy word for saying “get your shears out and make some sense of that jungle!”
When we prune our plants, we cut off parts of the plant that are sick, crowded, or just unnecessary. This helps to direct the plants energy into other tasks; ones us humans have deemed more worthwhile…like growing us bigger tomatoes! Pruning is not intuitive. Chop parts of your plant off to help it grow better??
But yes, its true! There are numerous benefits to pruning. It reduces plant disease, insect damage, and enables the plant to grow larger fruits that will ripen sooner. Plus, pruning makes the whole bed more accessible, tempering that height-of-summer unruliness. In the spirit of the current trend, you could think of it as “kondoing” your tomato bed!
Yikes! These plants needed help! Let’s take a detailed look at my tomato bed so you can wield your pruning tools with confidence and maintain some productive plants this season!
I’ll start by saying that you do not need to prune your tomatoes if you grow a determinate variety. These plants are smaller, have a more bush-like habitat, and are therefore great for growing in pots on your patio. Most tomato plants, though, are indeterminate, unless otherwise specified. As their name implies, these tomatoes will continue growing and setting fruit until frost arrives. With their more viney habitat, it’s best to focus on the main stem of the plant and train it up a strong central stake, as opposed to using a tomato cage.
Here, I show how we stake our indeterminate tomatoes by training the main stem around strong twine running from a board at the base of the plant, up to a board above the plant. Not only does this method provide ample support to the plant when tomatoes get heavy, it also opens everything up so that you can easily get in there and clean it up.
Tomato Pruning 101
- Prune in the early morning, or at least a cooler time of day than the hot afternoon.
- Make a clean cut. Try not to leave a tear down the stem of the plant.
- Cut as close to the stem as you are able to.
The four main parts of the plant that you will remove:
1. Remove several leaves at the bottom of the plant.
Cut off any leaves that are touching the ground, look yellowed, or any secondary shoots. Plenty of gardeners even cut off all of the leaves up to the first set of fruit! So don’t be shy.
2. Remove any leaves that look sick or diseased.
Tomato blight is quite common, and there is a whole host of other tomato fungi and diseases, unfortunately. If you are dealing with blight, do be careful to reduce the spread to healthy plants by cleaning your pruners with rubbing alcohol before using them again. For the same reason, do not put your diseased leaves into your compost heap!
3. Remove suckers, the little shoot that pops out of the corner between the main stem and the leaf.
If left on, suckers become full-fledged branches. This will leave you with bushier plants, excess greenery and smaller fruits. No matter how thorough I think I am, I always find more suckers and branches! It can take some practice to identify suckers that have gone unnoticed and grown into branches. It helps to just focus on keeping the main stem and clipping other branches trying to compete with the main stem.
4. Remove leaves that are overlapping each other.
If you’re like me, you’re trying to squeeze in as many tomato plants as you can! So when large leaves start to overlap each other, you can usually snip one off. If your plant has lots of leaves to soak up the sun, the one that is being overlapped isn’t doing any good anyway. Instead, it can trap moisture and breed fungus.
May your pruning yield tomato plants that grow big, strong and with brilliant color!