Gardening basics: How to prune tomatoes
01/13/2021 / By Rose Lidell / Comments
Gardening basics: How to prune tomatoes

There’s more to gardening than selecting seeds, planting, and waiting for your crops to grow. In fact, crops like tomatoes need to be pruned properly to ensure that you have a plant that produces more fruits come harvest time.

Not sure where to start? Detailed below are tips on how to properly prune tomatoes.

Determinate and indeterminate tomatoes

Pruning is a must if you want to grow healthy and productive vines. While pruning is a simple practice, you need to do it regularly so your plants don’t become overgrown.

However, not all tomatoes need pruning.

Determinate tomatoes don’t need pruning. These bush-like plants are bred to stop growing once they reach a certain height.

Determinate tomatoes stop producing fruit at a certain point and if you prune them, their growth will be stunted even more. Keep this in mind if you have determinate tomatoes in your home garden.

Below are the traits of determinate tomatoes:

  1. They have smaller plants with controlled growth.
  2. Their fruit ripens fairly early in the season.
  3. Determinate tomatoes produce a lot of fruit at once and they’re perfect for mass canning, drying or making sauces.
  4. Their plants tend to die by midsummer, but this means you have more space for other plants.
  5. Determinate tomatoes need little staking or caging.
  6. They are perfect for container gardening.
  7. You can also integrate determinate tomatoes into flower beds.

Grow determinate tomatoes if you have a large garden and if you want heavy crops of tomatoes at certain points in the growing season. Plan for several determinate varieties.

When choosing varieties, look for two basic pieces of information in the plant catalog or on the plant label. First, look for the word “determinate” or the abbreviation “DET” before purchasing seeds.

Second, look for the number of days at which the plant will bear fruit. To get several nice harvests, combine determinate varieties that bear early, mid and late season.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes require pruning. These subtropical plants form sprawling vines, which, if they’re left unattended can become tangled and unproductive.

Pruning indeterminate tomatoes helps your crops become strong and healthy. Tomatoes also need to planted somewhere with lots of sunlight so their fruits can ripen and sweeten properly.

Below are the traits of indeterminate tomatoes:

  1. They’re large plants with sprawling growth.
  2. Their fruit continues to ripen early to late in the season.
  3. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to bear fruit until frost.
  4. They require strong support.
  5. Indeterminate tomatoes can be grown in large containers, but they suit in-ground planting more.
  6. Indeterminate tomatoes are perfect for large, dedicated vegetable beds.

Grow indeterminate tomatoes if you want tomatoes for snacking, salads, or sandwiches. Some types of indeterminate tomatoes are very prolific and you’ll only need one or two plants for all your tomato needs.

Gardeners prefer heirloom tomatoes that are indeterminate varieties. When buying tomato plants, look for “indeterminate” on the label or the abbreviation “IND” or “INDET.”

Letting tomato vines grow without pruning them means you’ll have fewer fruits that don’t look or taste as good as tomatoes from plants that have been pruned properly.

Tips for pruning tomatoes

Beginners must remember three rules before pruning tomatoes.

Don’t prune above the top blossoms.

Doing so means your plant will stop growing upward and the plant becomes bushier and less productive.

Always prune out suckers when they’re small.

Suckers refer to smaller offshoot branches that grow between the main stem and the branch. If you wait until the suckers are bigger, you may injure the plant when you take them off. Suckers will also divert energy from developing fruits.

Check the whole plant before you start removing suckers.

If there are new suckers growing at the base of the plant, remove them. Check each plant’s overall health and growth. If the weather is hot or if a plant seems stressed, take a break from pruning.

Below are more tips if you want to learn when and how to prune tomatoes for better harvests.

  1. It’s easier to prune tomatoes early in the morning because the stems are crisp and they snap off easily. Pruning stems later in the day, when it’s hotter, means stems can become limp and are more likely to tear.
  2. Check your plants. Tomatoes need to be trained until they have one central trunk with several strong, healthy branches. Once you’ve found the trunk and the main side branches, look for smaller branches growing in the crevice where the trunk and main side branches connect. These small ancillary branches will try to produce new tomato plants and you need to prune them so they don’t make your plant grow too large and unmanageable. Leaving these ancillary branches will also reduce yields.
  3. If you find an ancillary branch, pinch it between your thumb and forefinger to remove it. Make a clean break and try not to rip the plant.
  4. After you remove an ancillary branch, decompose or discard it.
  5. Never prune stems that grow above flowers because these are new growth that will form more blossoms. Instead, remove the stems that form along the main branch.
  6. Once a second trunk emerges from the ground, get rid of it. If you have plenty of room in your garden, leave it and let it become a second tomato plant.

When is the best time to prune tomatoes?

Keep in mind that you can also prune a plant too much. To ensure that your tomatoes grow well, prune them once every week or so.

You may need to prune plants more frequently if your tomatoes are extremely vigorous. Depending on the size of your home garden, pruning for about 15 minutes or so weekly should be enough.

Pruning doesn’t need to happen like clockwork, though. If you miss a week or two, it’s fine.

Tomato plants will continue to grow and produce tomatoes even if they’re not suckered. However, pruning tomatoes helps boost your harvest and makes them easier to take care of.


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