Many think that pruning tomatoes is not necessary, or they've never heard about doing it. Pruning tomatoes is optional, unless, of course, you want the best tomatoes.


Benefits of Pruning and Staking Tomato Plants

Though they are separate tasks, pruning and staking go together. If you prune your plants and prize tomatoes appear, but the plants are not staked, your plants won't be able to hold the weight and will fall to the ground. All of the leaves will not receive the needed sunlight and the plants will run a high risk of disease. 

On a perfect tomato plant, every leaf can receive sunlight. Problem is, when the leaves fill with sugar, leaf stems begin to branch off from the main stem. Eventually the leaf stems fill with sugar and begin to flower. Tomatoes begin to grow, enjoying a healthy flow of sugar. But when tomatoes begin to form on the leaf stems, the plant produces side-shoots, which appear between the main stem and the tomato-bearing leaf stem. This creates two problems:

  1. The first problem is that every new growth diverts sugar. So now the growing tomatoes are only enjoying a portion of the healthy sugar available. The results will be smaller fruits. 

  2. The second problem is that side-shoots suck up sugar to produce a mass of unworthy leaves that block leaves that would otherwise produce nice-sized tomatoes. Left alone, the side-shoots will become leaf stems, which will bear more side-shoots. This process continues until your tomato plants are too dense to produce healthy tomatoes.


Pruning Side-Shoots

Obviously, the side-shoots need to be removed. 

First, decide how many fruit-bearing leaf stems you want your plants to have. Each of your main leaf stems will bear flowers and fruit, but make sure they are all at least one foot from the ground. Any lower and the fruit or leaves will touch the dirt, attract bugs and slugs, and potentially damage your plant. Throughout the growing season, pinch off any side-shoots that appear any lower than a foot above the ground.


The best time to remove side-shoots is when they are about 3 to 4 inches long, using your fingers to pinch them off. Plants can be pruned with your fingers. You want to remove enough leaves so that the area around the base of the plant does not look crowded. However, you must also leave enough leaves to cover your growing fruit. If you do not have some foliage covering the tomato fruits, they can sun scald.

TIP:  When it's late in the season, about a month before the first frost for your area, remove the side-shoots as usual. But this time remove any flowers as well. They will not have time to bloom and will only rob energy from the final harvest.

If all this pruning stuff sounds too scary to you, grow a test plant or two to practice on, while leaving others you are growing alone...as you might usually have grown them in the past. And remember, when it comes to growing healthy tomato plants and plump tomatoes: Practice makes perfect!