Managing your tomato plants by learning how and when to prune them is one of the key secrets for producing a healthier and better crop of tomatoes. Tomato plants are hardy and typically produce a good crop even without pruning, but pruning them produces an even better crop of delicious, mouth-watering tomatoes. Pruning your plants properly can encourage larger, healthier fruit to grow.
Why Should You Prune Tomato Plants?
Determinate varieties, or those that do not continue to vine, require less pruning if left to their own growing patterns simply because they eventually stop. Unfortunately, indeterminate varieties, or those plants that continue to vine and grow longer or taller, often become difficult to support if they are not pruned.
Since they continue to flourish and increase their overall weight and need for support, indeterminate varieties require special care and support in order to produce the healthiest crop of tomatoes.
If your tomato plants are left unsupported, eventually the added weight of too many branches and too much fruit will cause your plant to lay along the ground exposing your tomatoes to disease and pest infestation. This will also lead to smaller tomatoes or a longer time period for them to grow to full size.
As you can see, pruning does come in handy for several reasons. It is definitely worth the time and effort to learn how to prune your tomato plants so that you can have a successful crop.
Each leaf of a tomato plant performs the process of photosynthesis or the production of sugar, which is used for the growth of the plant and its tomatoes. If too many leaves and branches exist on your tomato plants, then some of the leaves will not be able to get the proper amount of sunlight to create the sugar they need to sustain themselves.
When this happens, the plant is less healthy and struggles to survive. In severe cases, the plant has so many unnecessary leaves and branches that not even the tomatoes are receiving a sufficient supply of sugar.
Eventually, the leaves that are struggling to survive turn yellow and fall off. However, this takes a while to occur and the damage to your plant has already begun. Moreover, the tomato plant is also at risk of getting a disease since its components are not functioning at optimal level.
If your tomato plant is unsupported, not only will all of its leaves fail to get the proper sunshine it needs for photosynthesis, but also, the plant will be at even greater risk of disease since it will be prone on the ground rather than upright and supported.
This fact also leads to a smaller and less productive crop since properly pruned plants can produce at a quicker rate. Moreover, plants that are lying on the ground often cover some of the leaves and fruit, blocking the sun that these plants need to remain healthy.
How to Prune Tomato Plant Seedlings
Pruning your tomato plants begins with your seedlings. Early pruning techniques encourage the growth of strong stems, an important facet to a healthy, producing tomato plant. Tomato plants with a single strong stem typically produce larger fruits while needing less support.
Typically, tomato plant seedlings outgrow their initial containers and need to be transplanted several times before finally making it into the ground. In order to encourage strong stems and a strong root system, it is important for you to prune your seedlings prior to transplantation to each new container as well as their final growing spot.
When you transplant each seedling, gently remove all leaves except the ones that are above the soil line. Tomato stems root on their own as long as they are covered with soil. This strategy encourages a strong stem as well as a strong root system to support your tomato plant.
How to Prune Tomato Plants: Indeterminate Varieties
Since all of the leaves on a single-stem tomato plant typically receive sun, this type of plant usually produces a healthy crop of tomatoes. Early pruning leads to the growth of a strong stem by eliminating unnecessary suckers or secondary stems that divert sugar production away from the primary stem.
When planting your tomato plant in the ground, you are going to remove all of the suckers from the plant. In particular, remove all growth below the first cluster of flowers on your tomato plant.
If you are interested in producing a larger crop of smaller tomatoes, then you can allow as many as four additional stems to grow on your plant. Any more than four stems and you are seriously impinging upon the size of your tomato crop.
If you choose to have more than one stem, you should follow this technique. Allow a single branch to remain above the first node that rests on the stem of your plant directly above the first flowering cluster. Then, allow another branch to remain above the second node that sits on the stem of your tomato plant above the initial cluster of flowers. The node looks like a small bump on the stem.
Once your plant continues to grow, you can allow new growth as desired. More stems mean a larger, longer-producing crop in indeterminate varieties of tomatoes. This allows you to continue picking tomatoes for several more weeks.
How to Prune Tomato Plants: Determinate Varieties
Determinate varieties of tomatoes have a well-defined producing season. Therefore, they require minimal pruning as they will eventually stop growing and producing new stems on their own. In general, the only pruning that you need to do is to remove stems and leaves below the first cluster of flowers on the primary stem.
Any additional pruning has no effect on the number or size of the tomatoes that are grown. Therefore, any additional pruning is simply a waste of time.
Want to learn more about pruning tomato plants?
Check out these websites:
Pruning Tomato Plants from University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension
Training Systems and Pruning in Organic Tomato Production from Extension.org