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Tomato Pruning: How to Prune Tomatoes

Updated on March 18, 2017

How to Prune Tomatoes

Tomato pruning is one the most forgotten tasks of vegetable gardening. Pruning tomato plants will help promote healthy growth, produce better tomatoes and create a well-trained plant.

Pruning a tomato plant is simple with the right techniques and should be done on an as-needed basis. Aside from a healthier well-trained plant, pruning helps to prevent soil-borne diseases that can be fatal. Here you will learn techniques for tomato pruning, including how and when to do it, how to do it before you plant a tomato bush, and everything else you need to know.

Creative Commons Image: Flickr- Transguyjay

When Should You Prune Tomatoes

Tomatoes should be pruned prior to planting and then on an as-needed bases. Suckers will need to be pinched frequently and the lower limbs will need to be removed as the plant grows and new limbs emerge.

tomato pruning
tomato pruning

How to Prune Tomatoes

Pruning tomatoes after they have become established is important to promote new growth and maintain a healthy tomato plant. Doing so will send water and energy to the top portion of the plant and allow it to flourish and produce more tomatoes.

Pruning the lower portion of the tomato plant also helps to prevent soil borne diseases. Lower limbs and leaves that touch the soil can become infected and become breeding grounds when left to grow.

Use sharp shears to cut back limbs so that they are flush with the stalk. Remove all limbs and leaves from the lower 1/3 of the plant. Healthy limbs that have been removed can be used to propagate more plants through cuttings. Visit How to Grow Tomatoes from Cuttings for a step-by-step guide.

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Promote a Healthy Root System by Pruning and Planting Deep

When planting tomatoes you should always prune the lower portion of the plant. Remove and all limbs and leaves that will be touching the soil. When planting young tomato plants it is best to plant them as deep as possible leaving only a few sets of leaves on top of the plant sticking out of the ground. This allows the rest of the plant to put on roots and create a better anchor, a bigger root system for taking in nutrients and water, and prevents the plant from becoming to leggy. If you choose to plant your young tomato plants deep in the soil be sure to remove all limbs and leaves. Make sure that any limbs and leaves left on the top portion of the plant are not touching the soil.

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How to Plant Tomatoes

Prune Suckers

The first step to pruning tomatoes is to prune suckers. A tomato sucker is a new limb growing out between the main stalk and a limb. They should be pruned as soon as you notice them. Occasionally, one will get past you and grow to a full size stalk. Trim it back using sharps shears so that it is even with the angle of the stalk and original limb. Smaller suckers can be pinched back using your fingers or cut with shears.

Pruning tomato suckers will prevent the plant from using energy on useless limbs that may never produce any tomatoes. Suckers cause crowding and shading of lower limbs and too much shade produces a lesser quality tomato due to lack of photosynthesis. Photosynthesis of the leaves is what causes the plant to create sugars and create a better tasting tomato.

Do not prune too much away. You want to leave enough foliage to shade the tomatoes themselves to prevent scalding which can lead to damaged and cracked tomatoes.

Tomato Suckers

tomato suckers
tomato suckers

The red boxes indicate the suckers that are forming. Notice how they are coming up between the main stalk and the limb. Pinch these out as soon as you notice them.

(Image Source: Flickr - EraPhernalia Vintage, Alterations made by myself)

Do Tomato Suckers Produce Fruit?

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Too Prune Suckers or Not to Prune?

Many gardeners allow suckers to grow, while others insist that they be pruned. Some insist that the bare no fruit while others say they do. What are your thoughts on tomato suckers?

Please feel free to comment on why you choose yes or no! We would love to hear your feedback on this.

Do You Prune Your Tomatoes?

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Your Thoughts on Tomato Pruning

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      S FA 3 months ago

      I just did on your advise... hoping for good result

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      Mlg 22 months ago

      i prune the lower stems but am wondering if I should"top"" off a growing plant that is rather spindly but has flowers. Will it make it bush out more. Thanks for any information

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      L. Novota 2 years ago

      Should pruning be done on both determinate and indeterminate tomoto plants?

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      Lawrence Green 2 years ago

      I prune the suckers when I see them. Some get by me. They do produce fruit but I think without pruning the bush gets out of control and the quality is reduced.

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      Alisan 3 years ago

      I prune some of the suckers others I transplant to my greenhouse for winter tomatoes

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      fmacgambler1 3 years ago

      My wife said NOT to prun them. She is in charge of them. What to do?

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      growownfood6 4 years ago

      Thanks for the information on how tomatoes needed to be purned.

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      I never knew tomatoes needed to be pruned. Thank you for this thorough but easy guide. You've increased my confidence.