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how to prune tomato plants

How To Prune Tomato Plants: Is It Necessary?

Whether you’re an experienced gardener or a beginner, you likely know that many plants require pruning to maximize growth and plant health. Whether or not to prune tomato plants is an ongoing debate among gardeners, but some people may struggle simply because they don’t know how to prune tomato plants correctly. In this article, we explain when pruning tomato plants is necessary, the benefits of pruning, and how to do it properly.

If you haven’t started growing yet, invest in a tomato planter from A Garden Patch for a self-watering and self-fertilizing planter. The GrowBox makes it easy for gardeners at all skill levels to grow big, flavorful tomatoes. 

Is Pruning Tomato Plants Necessary?

Whether or not you should prune your tomato plants depends on the types of tomatoes you’re growing. Tomato plants come in two broad types: determinate plants and indeterminate plants. The type you have will dictate the best care techniques:

  1. Indeterminate tomato plants flower and fruit all season long. Because they continually produce new fruit, they can often benefit from pruning. 
  2. Determinate tomato plants produce all their fruit for that season at once. Pruning determinate tomato plants can result in lower fruit yields, so most gardening experts don’t recommend pruning this type. 

If you’re not sure which type of tomato plant you have, read the seed packet or plant tag, which should designate your plant as indeterminate or determinate.

You must also consider the climate where you live to decide whether or not to prune your tomato plants. While these plants need sunlight for photosynthesis, a lack of ample shade may damage the growing fruit, which relies on the plant’s canopy for protection. If you live in a hot, sunny climate, you may not prune as often or as aggressively as a gardener who lives in a cooler, more humid climate. 

What Are the Benefits of Pruning Tomato Plants?

Pruning your tomato plants may provide the following benefits, depending on the type of plant and the region’s climate:

  • Faster crop development: When you prune a tomato plant, you remove the secondary branches that pull energy away from the main plant. By redirecting energy back into the plant’s main structure, you can encourage faster fruit growth for quicker crop development.
  • Disease prevention: Consistent air flow plays a key role in preventing fungal diseases like septoria leaf spot, which causes dark leaf spots and the eventual loss of overall foliage. Overgrown tomato plants can trap moisture that leads to fungal growth, but pruning keeps the plants well ventilated and the leaves dry. 
  • Bigger fruit: Pruning tomato plants decreases the number of tomatoes the plant will produce by removing extra branches. Some gardeners prefer to grow as many tomatoes as possible, but fewer fruits mean the plant doesn’t have to divide its energy into as many parts, resulting in bigger tomatoes. 
  • Healthier plants: Not pruning indeterminate tomato plants can result in significant spread and growth that may threaten the overall health of the plant. Pruning also keeps the plant tidy, easier to care for, and simpler to harvest. 

The pruning benefits you experience will depend on the type of plants you grow, your region’s climate, and other factors. You may conduct a side-by-side comparison to determine whether pruning is worth it for your garden. If you have two or more of the same type of tomato plant, leave one unpruned for a season to see the difference between it and a pruned plant. 

How Do You Prune Tomato Plants Properly?

Let’s dive into how to prune tomato plants. Various pruning techniques exist, so different gardeners will recommend different tips to prune tomato plants properly. Below, we review some of the most common pruning techniques.

Pruning Suckers

In the tomato growing world, the branches that grow between the main stem and lateral stems are called “suckers.” They first appear as small leafy stems but can grow into strong, blossom- and fruit-bearing branches over time.

Gardeners who prune suckers from their indeterminate plants often recommend removing all of the extra growth except the first sucker below the lowest fruit or flower cluster. This extra stem typically represents the strongest sucker on the plant, so many gardeners allow it to grow into a secondary fruit-bearing stem. 

Consider these tips when pruning suckers off of your tomato plants:

  • Remove suckers just above the base of the stem, leaving a short nub behind. 
  • Use your thumb and index finger to pinch off small, weak suckers for faster healing compared to clippers or scissors. Large, strong suckers may require pruning tools. 
  • Disinfect pruning tools before use to avoid spreading harmful bacteria, fungi, and viruses to the plant.

Pruning Low Side Stems and Roots

Some gardeners will also remove the side stems growing below the lowest flower or fruit cluster on indeterminate tomato plants. Keeping the bottom of the plant open encourages improved air flow and directs more energy to the fruit-bearing stems. 

Root pruning causes stress on tomato plants that may result in faster maturation. To prune roots properly, use a spade or knife to cut an 8 to 10-inch deep path around one half of the base of the plant a few inches away from the main stem. Gardeners who use this technique prune roots as the plant’s first fruit clusters become ripe. 

Topping Tomato Plants

Cutting off the top of tomato plants near the end of the season prevents plants from growing too tall and helps direct energy into the last fruit yield. To top a tomato plant, use sharp pruners to clip the plant above the top-most blossom cluster about 30 days before the season’s first frost. 

how to prune tomato plants

Grow Large, Flavorful Tomatoes Using a Garden Patch GrowBox

Now that you understand how to prune tomato plants, visit this link to learn how to identify tomato harvest time for the most delicious tomatoes. If you’re a beginner gardener or want an easier way to grow tomatoes, check out A Garden Patch’s self-fertilizing and self-watering GrowBoxes. You can use Garden Patch GrowBox to grow tomatoes and other plants anywhere, outdoors and in. 

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