How to Trim Tomato Plants

Early in the season, when you start your seedlings or purchase them from your favorite gardening shop, they seem so small – the thought of having to trim your tomato plants is far from your mind. It’s actually a necessary action to take to get your tomato plants growing like gangbusters with an excellent yield of tomatoes. Learn how to trim tomato plants to get the most out of your plants for the upcoming harvest.

Why Trim?

There are plenty of reasons for trimming tomato plants. One is that you’re helping to remove dead and browning leaves. Taking these leaves off of the plant will help the plant focus its energy on growing bigger and producing more tomatoes. Plus, you’ll be removing any damage caused by pests or disease to help give the plant a better shot at kicking a disease.

Another reason for trimming your plants is that you’re improving air circulation and flow around the plant. Removing unnecessary suckers means that there is more space between the leaves for air to get around, which also means that after it rains or you water your garden, the leaves will dry quicker. This also helps to prevent plant disease and keeps your tomato plants healthy. Plus, this will help sunlight get to more of the leaves for photosynthesis.

Finally, towards the end of your growing season, it can be a good idea to prune the new clusters of flowers off the plant. This may sound like a bad idea since you’re removing flowers that would be becoming tomatoes to add to your harvest, but this helps the other growing tomatoes that are still rather small at this time. Cutting those buds will focus the energy of the plant into growing the already there tomatoes larger before the end of the season put a stop to plants growing.

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Tomato Plant Anatomy

Understanding tomato plant anatomy can be helpful when it comes to pruning your tomato plants down to size. At the bottom of the stem in the soil are the roots with the rest of the stem growing up towards the sky and light. On the stem are little bumps called nodes, where the leaves grow out of the steam. A leaf often will have several leaflets on them.

There will also be flower clusters growing from the plant which will form into the tomatoes. A final plant part that is very germane to the discussion on trimming tomato plants is suckers. A sucker is a shoot that will grow out of a joint between the leaf and the stem. If left alone, this will become a new branch on the plant.

Knowing Your Tomato Varieties: To Trim or Not To Trim

There are a vast number of tomato varieties available for purchase that can be grown in your home garden. You’ve probably heard the terms heirloom, hybrid, and more when determining which varieties you want in your garden. When it comes to trimming tomato plants, it’s important to remember these three terms: determinate, indeterminate, and dwarf.

  • Determinate tomato varieties like Roma tomatoes may also be called bush tomatoes. These plants’ genetic code tell them exactly how many leaves, flowers, and stems a plant will have during the growing season. These often have an early harvest making them very popular for home gardens or canners since the crops typically mature in a short time period. These plants are not necessary to prune, but taking off the lower suckers at the bottom of the plant can help to keep it healthy. Pruning more suckers may actually have the opposite effect in lowering your harvest.
  • Indeterminate tomato varieties like Early Girl tomatoes will continue to grow during the whole season only being stopped by the cold weather. Unlike determinate, they produce stems, leaves, and fruit for as long as possible. Staking and pruning are a must for these plants to gain the benefits discussed above. To trim, you should remove the suckers when they are smaller. Be sure to leave the growing tip alone at the top of the plant as this would stunt its growth. After the fruit has started to form, you can remove the leaves below the fruit. At the end of the season, along with removing the new flower clusters, you may want to finally take the growing tip to focus the plant’s energy on the remaining tomatoes for the end of the season. This is typically in September depending on your growing region.
  • Dwarf varieties like Patio tomatoes are usually used for container gardening, and these are similar to the determinate in that pruning them can lead to smaller harvests. Often, the fruit is formed on the sucker growth, so pruning them will remove your future tomatoes.

Learning how to trim tomato plants is a necessary skill for any gardener to have in their arsenal. The benefits that can be garnered from a proper tomato trimming can help you to have tomatoes all summer long from healthy and happy tomato plants. Be sure to check whether or not the varieties that you’ve purchased or grown are determinate, indeterminate or dwarf varieties before trimming since only indeterminate tomatoes plants need regular pruning.

For a lot more great gardening tips, see our guide on 31 Ways to Make You an Organic Gardening Guru.

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