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Pruning Tomatoes: Why? How? When?

Everyone loves tomatoes. They make a great addition to your garden with their bright fruit and unique grow pattern, plus, they're delicious! But they can be finicky to grow; dodging disease, under watering and sunburn in the summer is a big task. At Garden Spot Nursery, we want you to be prepared for all of this so you can have successful tomatoes plants into fall. We are always here to answer your plant questions, offer our experience and suggest products and soil amendments. Today we are tackling one specific area of concern: should you prune your tomato plants?

The short answer is yes, but there is a catch: only indeterminate varieties. Determinate tomatoes are bred to produce only once per year and stay on the small side, making them great for containers and apartment gardening. Pruning would severely reduce the overall yield, despite being wholly unnecessary. Indeterminate, however, will continue to grow and produce throughout the season, so pruning can be helpful when done correctly. If you aren't sure whether your tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate, consult your grower. Pruning your indeterminate tomato plants can help improve the size and quality of your fruit, but not the quantity. If you want big, beautiful, round tomatoes, keep reading.

Indeterminate tomato plants will grow small offshoots known as "suckers," which, given our growing season, don't do much of anything except divert energy away from ripening fruit. Suckers grow from the main stem and will usually pop up next to an existing, established branch. They will arrive later in the season and may protrude in an unusual direction to reach sunlight through a shady developed plant. If a non-producing branch is exerting energy just to reach sunlight, all of that energy could go, instead, to your producing branches.

You can decide how committed you are to pruning your tomato plant. If it is subject to a lot of sun, you can let the suckers grow out a bit, then prune half of its leaves, leaving half to protect your fruit from sunburn. This is common practice in southern states. If you are an avid caretaker, you can prune every sucker as it arrives. The most important ones to watch out for, however, are those below the first flower/fruit. If you're more on the minimal side of pruning, start from the bottom up. Later in the season, however, you might consider "topping" off your tomato plant. Cutting off the tops will prevent further fruit and flower production, redirecting energy to your existing fruit.

Once you decide to start pruning, there are a few things to keep in mind:

  • A plant that is less than 2-feet tall doesn't need pruning. It is hard to know which offshoots are suckers and which will produce fruit when they are that small, give it a little more time.

  • Prune with dry hands, when your leaves are dry as well. Water can carry diseases that can spread easily from your hands.

  • Clean your tools! This is a good rule for all of gardening. Give your pruners a good wipe with rubbing alcohol to prevent spreading disease.

  • Prune selectively. Leaves can do a lot of good for your plant, including shade fruit and produce energy from sugars. Don't cut it back to bald!

  • Cut suckers early. The more they stick around, the more energy they steal from your fruit. Pruning larger branches will leave unsightly wounds on your plant. All of this is avoidable with a keen eye and prompt response.

If you're new to growing vegetables, this may seem like a lot, but it gets easier. You'll be surprised how naturally this all comes once you see your plants in action. Again, if you have any questions we are here to help. Contact us via our website or stop on by, we are always happy to answer your questions.

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