Pruning Tomatoes: Do you follow the "rules"?

If you're a new gardener and this is the first you've heard of pruning your tomato plants, then this post is a MUST for your spring garden check list. For our seasoned gardeners, you just might be surprised at what you find. What can I say, we like to rock the boat sometimes. So take a look and see how our pruning plans measure up.

Ok so there's 3 things to consider with pruning tomatoes. The first two are easy: Is your plant Determinate or indeterminate?

  • Determinate or "bush" tomatoes are not continuous growers. They mature, produce a flush of fruit all at once, and retire. Fruit is produced on branches so you want to keep those. Therefore, apart from initial lower branch removal (we'll get to that in a bit), they generally do not need pruning unless they're in the way. So they're out for the rest of this post, sorry guys.

  • Indeterminate or "vining" tomatoes can get huge. They will grow along the ground or a trellis as long as the season permits, producing fruit along the stems as they go (not the branches). These guys require regular pruning to keep them in check and producing the kind of stems you want, so read on for some tips.

Before we get rolling, all tomatoes need some pruning at the start to shape them up for success.

  • At planting time, remove a few lower branches and plant your tomatoes very-very deep. They'll grow roots along the stem giving them a huge leg up for fruit support.

  • Also remove any leaves/branches touching or near the ground to prevent soil bourn diseases. Crystal's rule of thumb is to remove all branches below the 1st set of flowers. Check.

Now you have a happy established tomato plant, and you know it's indeterminate and needs to be pampered. Now ask yourself: Do I want big tomatoes, or do I want lots of tomatoes?

Cuz here is where we are going to rock the boat for you garden veterans. Or maybe you knew this trick already and I'm the only one late to the party? We'll take a poll.

So, the law of tomato pruning for generations has been "prune the suckers". I did it. My neighbor did it. You probably did too. The suckers are the little leaflets that start growing in the...ahem...we'll say "crook" between the stem and a leaf branch. They start out tiny but are the beginnings of an entire new vine. Most tomato growers pinch them out to keep true to the main stem, channeling energy into producing larger fruit. "We need those sandwich slicers beefy!" we cried, as we pinched away. But folks, this year I've learned something new.

Don't prune the suckers.

I know, RIGHT? Stick with me. Now, I've mentioned before that I run a squirrel food bank. I just have that big a heart. Well the birds have caught on too, and now I'm lucky to get even a few of those big prized tomatoes. What I've learned here with Lettuce Grow Something is a new way of pruning, to gain strength in numbers!

We start all of our gardens, our clients and our own, with a strong foundation, and that includes tough trellises. Our goal is to drape those gorgeous arches with vines laden with scarlet clusters. To do this we prune away the leaf/branch directly below a sucker, focusing the plants energy instead to grow more vines. More vines, means more tomatoes and lots of them. Our arch will be lush and we'll have tomatoes to spare.

The catch of the higher yield is they will be smaller, but we prefer harvesting tons of tomatoes to the few prized pounders. We'll have plenty for us and the food bank remains open for the locals.

So, whether you choose the size or the sums, keeping up on your pruning will help your tomatoes live up to their full potential. And if your mother visits and declares your suckers need pinching, you can say "au contraire!", because we say you can.

And friends if you don't have any gardens to prune...let us work on that for you.

CLICK HERE TO GROW WITH US, we'll have you pruning in no time.