by Jennifer Poindexter
Have you ever heard of gardeners topping their tomatoes? This has been a long-running discussion in our family about whether this is a good idea or not. My husband comes from a long line of gardeners. They have green thumbs and pride themselves on the gorgeous tomatoes they produce.
Yet, this one topic can divide the room in an instant. Over the years, I’ve taken mental notes on all of the reasons why someone should or should not top their tomatoes.
Now, I’m going to share them with you. I’ll also share how you can top your tomatoes if you choose to take this path. Here’s what you should know about tomato topping.
Benefits of Topping Tomatoes
There are many good reasons for topping your tomato plants. One major benefit is that it produces fuller plants. If you would like your plant to be bushier, cut the top of the plant off. This allows the rest of the plant to redirect energy to other areas which enables it to fill out instead of continuing to grow taller.
Topped tomato plants will also, typically, produce larger fruit and increased fruit production. Again, this has to do with redirecting the plant’s energy into the fruit instead of trying to grow a larger plant.
Another benefit is that topped tomatoes are easier to stake as well. You can top your tomato vines at the top of the stakes. If you’ve ever had to wrestle with a large tomato plant, you know it’s not fun.
By reducing the height of the plant, it fits nicely inside a tomato cage. You also won’t have to wrestle the plant to keep it in the cage.
Topping tomato plants can provide strength to weak, leggy plants. If you cut them back and allow them the opportunity to regrow, many times they grow back stronger.
When the plants regrow, they may also come back sturdier in many cases. This allows them to support bigger tomatoes without concerns of breaking.
Some gardeners also find that their tomato plants produce more new flowers more when topped, resulting in more new fruit. Topping tomatoes can also help fruit ripen faster.
It allows the plants to withstand the elements better as well. Since the plants are lower to the ground, they’re less likely to break during heavy rain or windstorms.
Now that you understand why many gardeners support the idea of topping tomatoes, let’s discuss why some remain unconvinced of this gardening technique.
Drawbacks to Topping Tomatoes
Though there are many reasons why people top their tomatoes, there are a few reasons why some avoid this practice.
The first reason why many gardeners don’t top their tomatoes is that it’s one more thing to do. If you’re a busy gardener or someone who likes to keep things as simple as possible, topping your tomatoes may be more than you want to take on.
Once you begin topping certain varieties of tomatoes, it becomes an on-going process. This can feel overwhelming to some gardeners.
A second reason some gardeners choose to avoid this practice is because it only works on certain types of tomatoes.
If you have a determinate variety of tomato, you shouldn’t top them until the end of the growing season.
Determinate varieties only grow to a certain height. Therefore, when you top them, you’re sending messages to the plants.
Once topped, determinate plants won’t produce any more fruit or grow any taller. Instead, they’ll send their energy to ripen the remaining fruit.
In turn, you shorten your growing season and reduce the size of your harvest. However, you can top indeterminate varieties. These tomatoes don’t have a certain height they reach.
Therefore, if you top indeterminate tomatoes they will continue to grow. If you’re unsure about what variety of tomato you’re growing, or if you know you’re growing a determinate variety of tomato, you shouldn’t practice topping.
Our final reason why some gardeners don’t like the idea of topping their tomatoes is that they find it wasteful.
At times, you must remove large parts of the plant, depending upon how tall the plant has gotten.
My mother-in-law was one who never liked to waste anything. Therefore, she had a huge problem with topping tomatoes.
If you feel similarly, you should know that you don’t have to waste what you cut. Here is a great little growing tip, instead of wasting what you have cut, you can take the cuttings and plant them in your vegetable garden.
For best results keep the soil surrounding the cuttings consistently moist. Over a week or so, each cutting should develop roots and become new, young plants.
You can also pot the cuttings in soil. This way you can have container tomatoes if you don’t have enough room for more tomato plants in your garden.
This would also make a great gift for those around you who love homegrown tomatoes. Ultimately, whether or not you top your tomatoes is up to you.
However, it’s our hope that you now have a clear picture as to why some gardeners choose to avoid this option even if there are quite a few benefits to it.
How to Top Your Tomatoes
Now that you understand the pros and cons of topping tomatoes, let’s discuss how you go about this. In most cases, you should wait until the tomato reaches the top of the stake or tomato cage before topping.
Once this occurs, use shears to make a clean cut and remove the part of the tomato which is above the top of the support for your staking set-up. Another method to deciding where to top is by picking the fruits on the plant which you would like to keep.
After you know, cut just above where the fruits are on the plant. If you’re pruning around fruit, be sure you leave enough foliage to protect it from becoming scorched by the sun.
Tomatoes need shade, or they won’t make it. When you’re finished tomato pruning, as mentioned earlier, you must realize this isn’t a one-and-done scenario.
You must continue pruning each week. As the plant grows back, it should be healthier, but it will also become too large for your staking set-up again.
The plant will redirect energy as well. It will begin focusing on the new growth instead of the fruit already on the vine. Therefore, you must continue to prune tomato plants if you’d like see the same benefits through the entire season.
Can You Top More Plants Than Just Tomatoes?
Now that you understand how to top tomatoes and why some gardeners choose this method of care for their plants, you might wonder if there are other plants you can top.
The answer is yes. There is another plant which benefits from topping. Pepper plants are typically topped when they’re younger.
The reason for this is that it encourages fuller plants with larger fruit and avoids them becoming too leggy. If you grow peppers as well, you might want to take these same tips and apply it to other areas of your garden.
As you can see, there are many reasons why you should consider this technique, but there are also reasons why topping tomatoes may not be right for everyone. Once you look at the facts, make the right decision based upon your schedule and varieties of tomatoes in your garden.
Hopefully, I’ve shed some light about topping tomatoes and given you enough information to help you make a well-informed decision.
- Topping tomatoes can lead to fuller plants, larger fruit, increased fruit production, and easier staking. It can also provide strength to weak, leggy plants and help the plants withstand the elements better.
- Some gardeners avoid topping tomatoes because it can be time-consuming, works only on certain types of tomatoes (indeterminate “vine” varieties), and may be considered wasteful.
- Topping determinate “bush” varieties of tomatoes can shorten the growing season and reduce the size of the harvest, so it is not recommended for these types of plants.
- To top tomatoes, wait until the plant reaches the top of the stake or cage and then make a clean cut above the support system or above the fruits on the plant. Regular pruning is necessary to maintain the benefits throughout the season.
- Pepper plants can also benefit from topping, as it encourages fuller plants with larger fruit and prevents them from becoming too leggy.
Learn More About Topping Tomatoes
I think if you’re going to talk about topping tomatoes and if you’re going to talk about tomatoes getting bushier, you have to address the subject of sucker shoots. Do you allow sucker shoots to grow, or do you perhaps pick and choose, and allow some to grow?
Is this advice also true of hybrid tomatoes?
Beverly Medley says
I topped my tomato plants 3 weeks ago when will the plant start growing side shoots? Thanks!
Debbie Williams says
Cherokee purple should they be topped