When it comes to tomatoes, they can be quite an unruly plant. That overgrowth can make harvesting a chore, not to mention “set the table” for hornworms and other pests. These and other issues can make growing tomatoes less profitable for you. Learning the skill of pruning tomato plants can help that bottom line in positive ways.
Gardening can be an expensive undertaking if it’s your means of feeding your family each year. While tomatoes aren’t necessarily an expensive food, finding good tasting fresh tomatoes in a store isn’t common, even in season.
Add in the expenses of all the canned tomato products (tomatoes, sauces, salsas, and the like) your family eats each year, and growing tomatoes is suddenly more lucrative. Let’s talk about how you can upgrade your tomato fruit production by pruning and removing tomato suckers. At the end, I’ll have a resource for you showing you how to put your tomato suckers to work for you to create an even larger bounty!
What Are Tomato Suckers?
Tomato suckers are the teeny little stalks that tomato plants develop between the stem and a leaf branch (where the branches meet). They grow on both types of tomatoes: indeterminate (vining) and determinate plants (bush). Usually you would only remove them on indeterminate tomato plants because those plants continue to produce leaves throughout the whole growing season.
If not removed, these growths will pull energy from the plant to grow its stalks and leaves, rather than using its energy to set flowers and produce fruit. They don’t have to be removed, but it’s a good idea to do so to free up some of that energy. My “5 Easy Steps to a Higher Tomato Yield” cheat sheet can show you a way to use them to get even more tomatoes! It’s in the resource library, and you can get the password to that at the end of this post.
Determinate tomato plants such as Romas and many of the hybrids that are sold in stores do still grow suckers. However, because they don’t continue to produce leaves upward (like vining tomato plants do), it’s best to leave those on so that you don’t stunt your harvest.
GROWING TIP: Tomato cages are in abundance at your local garden centers, but understand that without pruning, they will do little to help you to keep your plants under control. Keep your plants properly pruned, and you will have better luck with tomato cages!
The Benefits of Pruning Tomato Plants
Pruning tomato plants can be daunting if not worked on regularly, but the rewards are great if you keep up a weekly habit. However, you need to know whether your plants are determinate or indeterminate before you start pruning.
Here are a few of the benefits that you will reap if you prune your tomato plants.
Just by virtue of the fact that you can see the fruit on your plant makes it much quicker and simpler to harvest.
By having your plants pruned, pests like hornworms will have fewer leaves to hid under and munch on. This will give you a clearer view of any half-eaten leaves and worm droppings on or around the plant. Horn worms aren’t the only pests that attack tomato plants, but they are the most common tomato plant pest.
By having less foliage to content with, the plant will be able to put more energy toward growing larger fruit. Keep in mind, however, that if you have larger clusters of tomatoes as shown below, the fruit may not grow as large as you’d like it to. Try to harvest the ripe tomatoes from those clusters to give the others a chance to grow larger. Alternatively, you can harvest them green and use some of the ideas in this article.
Bonus Benefit: Earlier Ripening
According to this article by Bonnie Plants, pruning your tomato plants can result in earlier ripening. The reason for this is because the plant is pruned, it will have more energy left over to work on ripening the existing fruit on the plant.
Pruning is one of those gardening tasks that isn’t as fun as others, but the rewards for diligence do come. You will be able to harvest much easier with well-pruned plants, keep pests at bay, grow larger fruit, and even ripen them earlier if you stay on the ball with your pruning duties.
Keeping up with them is easy, just make sure to take a stroll at least once per week if you can’t do it daily. Look at the tops and undersides of leaves for pests, and do a little harvesting each day. You will learn to love being outside with them, and you plants will love you for it with a wonderful bounty of fruit that will keep your family fed for months to come!
Up Your Bottom Line with My FREE Cheat Sheet!
Learn how to use your tomato suckers to your advantage with my “5 Easy Steps to a Higher Tomato Yield” cheat sheet!