Now is the time of year to consider pruning your tomato plants. For several reasons, pruning is a good way to ensure that your tomato plants produce as much fruit as possible. Pruning excess vegetation will encourage more of the plant’s energy to go into fruit production and ripening. It is always a good rule of thumb to begin pruning at the bottom of the plant. With a clean set of pruning shears, simply cut the bottom-most branches away from the main stalk. Leaf spot diseases are common on tomato plants and will first appear on the bottom leaves. Though rarely fatal, leaf spot diseases can prohibit photosynthesis and reduce the overall health of the plant. Pruning is a good cultural practice that will slow and control disease spread. Remove and discard pruned branches somewhere away from your tomatoes and clean your pruning shears before you prune another plant by dipping them into a dilute solution of bleach water (2 capfuls bleach:1 gallon water). As a rule of thumb, you should prune your tomatoes should be pruned at least 6-12 inches from the ground, depending on the size of the plant.
There are Two Types of Tomatoes
Determinate tomato varieties grow to a height of about 3’ and then put energy into leaf and fruit production. Fruit production occurs on clusters between each leaf and at the end of each stem. For determinate varieties, you should only need to prune once, when “suckers” are around 2 to 4 inches in length. Suckers are leafy growths that will often appear between the crotch of the main stem and the branches. However, for determinate varieties, it may be counterproductive to pinch suckers because they will often leaf out, flower, and produce fruit of their own. Thus, pruning suckers from your determinate varieties may lessen the amount of fruit set that you see throughout the year. Some determinate varieties include Better Boy, Big Boy, Cherokee, and other beefsteak varieties.
Indeterminate varieties are the tomatoes that won’t stop growing! These tomatoes will ripen fruit early and continually until the first frost and includes most of our cherry and heirloom varieties. For indeterminate varieties, pinching suckers more frequently will prevent the plant from getting too heavy and becoming unmanageable.
Now that you know how to prune the bottom leaves and remove the suckers, you should consider pruning some of the foliage in the middle of the plant. Pruning in the middle of the plant will increase air circulation slow the spread of foliar diseases. A good idea here is to prune away any of the foliage below the first flower cluster. The leafy stems grow directly on the main stems and above that is the flower stem, which also grows directly from the main stem. Prune the leafy stems that grow below the flower stems to direct the plant’s energy into fruit production. Any stems or leaves that turn yellow during the growing season should be pruned away immediately.
It may seem like a lot of work to prune your tomatoes, but I always found some pleasure and peace in pulling away suckers and removing excess foliage from my tomato plant. After all, too much foliage can prevent your search to find the perfect tomato sandwich!