How to Prune Tomato Plants

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Should you prune tomato plants? In this post I will discus how and why I choose to prune my tomatoes!

Types of Tomato plants

There are two types of tomato plants. Indeterminate and determinate plants.

  1. Indeterminate tomato plants are more of a vine-like plant that doesn’t stop growing up and out. It will keep growing, spreading and producing fruit until there is a frost. I will often times grow these varieties on a trellis or tie them to a pole or stake because of how tall they get. Tomato cages are of no use with these varieties.
  2. Determinate tomatoes are more bushy and will stop producing after blooming. They don’t grow as tall but can still overwhelm a tomato cage especially if they aren’t pruned. Often times your bigger “slicer” or beefsteak tomatoes will be determinate.
This image from https://gardenine.com helps to give a visual for the difference in the tomatoes..

Is it ever too late to prune a tomato plant?

I usually do most of my pruning at the beginning of the season, especially with a determinate plant. You shape your plant and then as the season goes on you can do some damage control with pruning. I would just suggest that you avoid taking out any really large branches as that may increase the risk of disease or hurt the plant more than help it.

So if you haven’t pruned your plant for several months and then go through and cut back half of your plants, you may risk getting infection in the plant or the plant going through shock from the major change. It can still be done, there is just more risk.

Why should you prune tomato plants?

The most important reason, in my opinion, for why you should prune your tomato plants is to allow more sun to get to your tomato. Tomatoes need sun to ripen. If your plant is a complete bush and there is a tomato in the middle then it may never turn red or it will take much longer to ripen because of lack of sun exposure.

Another reason is disease. This is where I think opinions are divided and say there is no need to prune and there is all the need to prune. This is because of where people live.

Humidity and tomatoes. If you live somewhere humid your plat is at way more risk for disease or infection. This is because of all the rain and moisture. That creates breeding grounds for disease in plants. So If there isn’t enough air flow with your tomato plant or it has leaves hitting the ground, it is more likely to get a disease like blight.

If you live somewhere dry you are far less at risk for this type of problem because your leaves and stems have tie to dry out and not develop a disease. I have lived in humidity in Virginia, USA. I will say my need for pruning in Virginia was a lot more prominent than when I have lived in the desert.

That being said. I still prefer my tomato plants to be less jungle-like and open for sunlight and airflow.

How to prune a tomato plant

There are two branches I always make sure to prune. Some people get even more crazy with their pruning, but I definitely take the simpler route.

First, You will want to cut off any branches that are at the bottom that hare hanging down and touching the ground. In the image below I would cut of the two sagging lower branches. These will not promote growth for the plant and will likely get a disease from touching the wet soil all day.

tomato plant with branches hanging down that need to be pruned.

Second, you will want to remove all “sucker” branches from the plant. These will form into large branches that will “suck” energy from the plant and wont actually produce any fruit.

Womans finger pointing to a sucker branch on a tomato plant that needs to be pruned.

I’m not gonna lie, If I am doing a quick “sucker” prune walk through on all my plants I will just pinch these off with my finger. As long as they are still pretty small, you can just pluck them off. If they are larger and you run the risk of ripping off the skin of the plant you should use pruners.

woman's hand pruning a tomato plant using her fingers. in her back yard.

Lastly, some people will pull off the first flowers that are blooming. This will allow the plant to put more energy into getting stronger and therefore you will likely have larger fruit down the road. This is something I only have the heart to do on a few of my plants! But I have seen that it works, so maybe I should just toughen up and do it every time!

Tips to use when pruning tomatoes

  • Use clean tools, If you are using pruners make sure they are clean.
  • It is better to prune your plant when the plant is more dry. If you live somewhere humid, this may not always be possible.
  • You will want to make clean cuts. Having a sharp tool is best.
  • Try and prune more often vs one massive hack for the whole season. I usually do a quick walk through at once a week or so. I honestly find myself doing it whenever I go out to the garden to do a walk through. It’s really not a big deal.

Now you have the tools you need to do some simple tomato pruning in your garden. It doesn’t have to be a big deal or extreme. Just a little here or there. Comment below if you have had success on pruning your tomato plants!

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