How To Prune Tomato Plants

How To Prune Tomato Plants

Vegetable gardeners have argued for years about whether they should prune tomato plants. Some gardeners are very religious about their pruning tomatoes, while others could care less. So which gardener is right? I have had successful tomato crops when I pruned and also when I didn’t prune tomato plants. Here are some advantages and disadvantages of pruning tomato plants:

Advantages of Pruning Tomato Plants

  • Pinching off the “suckers” from a tomato plant will help the plant to concentrate its energy on the growing fruit instead of the leaves, creating better, healthier fruit. This is a process simply called “Pinching off”. Pinching off is done by pinching off the small branches that form in the “Y” between the main stem and a branch.


Tomato Sucker

  • Pruning any branching off at the bottom of the tomato plant that is touching the ground helps to ward off insects and especially disease, such as blights and wilts. Just clip the one or two branches, with garden shears or scissors, that are touching the soil right near the stem. Be careful not to snip into the stem when performing this task!
  • Pruning the tomato plant also creates a neater, less cluttered looking tomato plant.

Disadvantages of Pruning Tomato Plants

    • If you live in a very warm climate, pruning the tomato plant could hamper production. Having the extra foliage on the plant will help shade the fruit from direct sun light preventing sunscald on the fruit. Pruning the plant can expose the tomatoes to the hot sun.
    • Pruning tomato plants should begin during the early stages of growth – when the plant reaches a height around 12 – 18 inches. Waiting to prune later on in the development could cause it to go into shock, reducing production (These can occur if you prune alot of branches at one time).
    • For pruning to be successful you must continually keep up with the growth of the tomato plant and catch suckers when they are small. The suckers are much easier to pinch when they have just started to sprout.

If you have never pruned your tomatoes, try experimenting with one plant and see if there are any production differences between the pruned and unpruned plants. You might be surprised by what you find!

Grow Fantastic Tomatoes

14 Comments on How To Prune Tomato Plants

  1. Hi,

    Thank you for listing the advantages and disadvantages of pruning or “pinching off” the little suckers from the tomato plants. In all my 30+ years of gardening I have never done this. Oh I have wanted to try it, but with usually between 35-42 tomato plants, and a 50×50 garden. Well, I never seemed to find the time. We always have a good crop, but have a tendency to get the early and late blight.

    Thank you for your article, I learned a lot.


  2. Are you reading my mind with these great posts? Just this evening I was wondering about pruning b/c someone mentioned it at gardenchat. Some of my bigger tomato plants have long branches so I’ve begun weaving jute twine around cages for even more support (so they don’t bend down towards ground). I wondered if I should prune the branches back — so very glad I read your post first. Thanks Tee!
    .-= karen´s last blog ..Sweet Escape =-.

  3. I used to always pinch off the suckers, but this year I was lazy and didn’t. I have been surprised to see that the suckers on my tomato plants have produced flowers and fruit. Am I seeing things, or do some tomatoes do that? They are indeterminate cherry-type tomatoes if that makes any difference.

    • Hi Fern, you are not seeing things, the suckers will produce blooms and fruit if not pinched, especially for an indeterminate. I know what you mean about being lazy. I generally pinch my tomatoes back until they start setting fruit. This year I pinched at first, then lost track.

      Now I have plants that are very top heavy. It’s going to be interesting this year trying to keep them upright LOL

      • Tee: I did the same thing this year and now I have top heavy plants. I am beginning to see more flowers. I was wondering if there was a way to stop the plant from growing up and start producing fruit at this point? I believe I have less than a month before the possibility of frost. Any ideas?

        • Hi Tina – The best thing I’ve found for getting the tomato plant to stop growing up and bush out is to pinch the tops of the plant off. This will encourage bushier growth and force the plant to concentrate its energy in developing fruit.

          As the top grows continue to just snip it off.

  4. Great article, I’m new to gardening and was wondering about this. Thank you! -Jason

  5. I normally do not prune my Toms back. Its just to hot here. I will trim back the suckers and diseased sections of the plants. Sometimes I will trim nice sections of the plant for propagation for a early winter harvest.

  6. Alisha Simmons // May 23, 2011 at 2:23 pm // Reply

    Thank you for sending this information. THis is my secound year growing tomtoes and this year they are great. Just one thing, I did no prunning and the plante are just doing there thing and lots of fruite. Thank you for helping me with great information.

  7. I think prunning is a good idea, but what about prunning off the very top of the plant when it gets too tall? I stake my plants with stakes that are about 5 to 5 1/2 ft. tall and when the plant grows about a foot taller then the stakes and when there are many flowers below the top down to the middle or so, I’ve been prunning off the top including any partial buds that haven’t bloomed yet..These plants have several flowers and little green tomatoes well below the top and I thought this process would serve the same purpose as prunning out those suckers….I don’t want the plants to get so big & I think what I’m doing will make the lower flowers be more productive….(I have a lot of tomato plants and so I’m not worried about not having enough tomatoes to eat….What do you think? My email addr. is [email protected] Thanks!

  8. I seem to be getting blight from the bottom going up on a couple tomato plants…. does anyone know why….? And also, why are my tomatos growing with cracks in them. I am watering them every other day… or should I increase the watering? They do get plant food and mixed a concoction from Jerry Baker’s book. Could the leaves on the bottom touching the ground be causing this???

    • Hi Gilbert – if your plants are contracting blight then the bottom leaves touching the soil could be a factor. Blight is a fungus and soil-borne, so if the soil contact the soil that’s where it’s coming from most likely. You can trim the bottom sets of leaves off the plant so it isn’t touching the soil. A copper fungicide can be used to help treat blight, but it’s a tough disease to treat.

      The cracking results from a sudden influx of water once the tomato has started to ripen some. The skin on the tomato will toughen up as it gets close to ripening. A sudden rain that dumps a lot of water will cause the tomato to start growing again and the skin will crack open.
      Good luck! 🙂

  9. Love your post, however I cut my tomato leader thinking it was a sucker. Will it grow back, or am I tomatoless? Thanks! ~First year gardener.

  10. First time container gardening thank you for help!

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