QUESTION: I’m growing tomatoes this year for the first time. I’ve been reading about pinching back plants. What does that mean? Do I need to pinch out my tomato plants?
ANSWER: Depending on the type of tomato plant you are growing and what you are looking for, you may choose to pinch back your tomato plants. Pinching back young tomato plants once they are four to six inches tall will encourage them to grow thick stems and lots of foliage, and you can pinch them again once the new growth has reached two or three inches.
With determinate tomato plants, you can pinch them back lightly to help maintain their shape, but once buds have formed you may be removing the buds and reducing your total number of tomatoes produced. Pinching back determinate tomato plants is usually not recommended for this reason.
With indeterminate tomato plants, you can pinch them back whenever you will like, and they will continue to form buds and new tomatoes. It’s OK to pinch back indeterminate tomato plants as needed to shape them and keep them under control.
Some gardeners pinch back the “suckers” that grow in the bend between a branch and the main stem, which results in larger tomatoes but fewer total tomatoes produced. In late summer, some gardeners pinch back new blooms and fruits to encourage the plant to direct its energy and limited time into maturing other fruits it has already set.