The Best Way To Prune Tomato Plants For A Big Harvest

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  • Pruning a tomato means removing unneeded growth tips from the plant. These growing tips are sometimes called shoots or suckers. Growth tips are the new growth–the small leafy-bud growth–located in the “V” or crotch between two stems. Pruning or pinching away new growth allows a tomato plant to concentrate its energy on the development of fruit rather than new foliage. Plant sugars used to make new growth are instead used to concentrate flavor and grow larger, healthier tomatoes. Julie Martens Forney over at shares how to prune tomatoes for a big harvest.

    Do you like to train your plants and check up on them almost every day? If so, then you may be a natural tomato pruner. Pruning tomato plants is an optional technique that some gardeners use to keep plants tidy, manipulate fruit size, and even speed ripening. There is one big catch: You should only prune indeterminate varieties, which produce new leaves and flowers continuously through the growing season. If you prune determinate varieties, you may reduce the harvest. (Looking for indeterminate varieties to plant? Try our Tomato Chooser.)

    How to Prune Tomatoes: diagram for pruning tomato plants

    Pruning works best for plants trained on a strong vertical support, such as a trellis or stake like the one shown in the photo above. That way, it’s easy to both see what you are doing and keep the main stems carefully controlled by tying them to a single support. (Cages, on the other hand, naturally gather all of the limbs and support them without much help from the gardener, so there’s no need to prune — though you certainly can if you’d like.) Either way, the key is to prune enough, but not too much, so that the fruit receives both adequate sugars from the leaves and enough cover from the sun. A word of caution, though: Don’t prune tomatoes when leaves are wet, as doing so can help spread disease.

    Here are some reasons to prune tomatoes:

    Improved airflow and less disease. With fewer leaves, pruned plants are less dense, allowing more air to move through the plants. The leaves dry faster after a rain, so they are less susceptible to the diseases that need prolonged moisture to develop — something that can be very helpful in wet climates. Plus, fewer leaves make it easier to spot insect pests that might otherwise be hidden by a thick canopy.

    Bigger fruit. Pruning at the right time directs energy toward creating and ripening fruit instead of making more leaves. Overall, you will probably have fewer fruit on a pruned plant, but it will be bigger. And, since pruned plants can be put a bit closer together in the ground because the growth is so vertical, you’ll have room for additional plants to make up the difference in harvest numbers.

    Earlier ripening. When a plant’s leaves and physiology have fewer fruit to take care of, that fruit ripens faster. This can really help in short season climates, where getting a tomato harvest is often a race against time, thanks to early fall frosts.

    How to prune tomatoes: tall enough for pruning tomato plants

    How to Prune Tomatoes
    (Indeterminate Varieties Only!)

    You’ll want to prune tomatoes throughout the season. Here’s what to do and when:

    At Planting

    – Remove the lower leaves when planting so you can bury plants deeply into the soil. If you’re planting a Bonnie plant, follow the directions on the wrapper.

    How to prune tomatoes: Missouri technique for pruning tomato plants

    – Remove any flowers present at planting time (even if they were on there when you bought the plant), so energy goes into leafy growth instead of fruiting at this early stage.


    – Remove flowers until plants are 12 to 18 inches tall, so plants can direct more energy to the roots.


    Find more on pruning tomatoes plants over at

    Featured Image courtesy of: nataliecreates


    Watch the video on the next page for how to prune tomato plants: in 3 easy and important steps.

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