By Kathy Widenhouse, award-winning writer and owner of Tomato Dirt, a leading online source of for growing tomatoes in the home garden.
Pruning tomatoes: it raises a lot of questions. Here are some of the most frequently asked ones – and some answers to help.
Q. Should I prune my tomato plants?
A: Maybe! It’s a personal decision for each gardener. A 2000 Purdue University study showed that pruning has both advantages and disadvantages.
Among advantages is that pruning produces larger fruit. And for those gardeners whose tomato plants sprawl across their garden, pruning (along with staking) can provide a helpful antidote to excessive growth, allowing all available leaves to present their faces to the sun. As for disadvantages, pruning reduces the numbers of fruit, although the fruit is bigger. Pruning also can open up the plant to infection. Read more advantages and disadvantages to pruning tomatoes so you can decide what is best for your tomato crop.
Q: if I decide to prune my tomato plants, when should I start the process?
A: Wait until plants are at least 1-2 feet tall. Any smaller than that and the pruning process may shock your tomato plant – and it may not recover.
Q: What is the best time of day to prune tomatoes?
A: Prune early in the morning and preferably on a dry day. Temperatures are cooler in the morning, which means less stress on the plant. Dry weather gives the plant a chance to heal quickly with less chance of spreading tomato diseases.
Q: What method should I use when I prune my tomatoes?
A: That depends! The type of pruning you use varies at different points in the growing season.
Simple pruning: this method allows you to cut back suckers that produce weak fruit and drain energy away from the main plant. Simple pruning is best done early in the season when plants are working hard to put out leaves, blossoms, and fruit, allowing them to concentrate their efforts.
Missouri pruning: this modified version of simple pruning allows you to pinch off sucker tips rather than at the base of the shoot, thereby reducing shock to the plant.
Root pruning: this approach lets you to strengthen a tomato plant by pruning its roots with a spade, a few inches from the base of the plant, forcing the plant to mature. The best time to root prune is after fruit has developed but just before it begins to ripen.
Top pruning: this is best done towards the end of the season, about a month before frost. Clip the top of the tomato plant above the last blossom, which prompts the plant to finish producing the fruit already on the vine.
Q: Is pruning more important for some tomato varieties than for others?
A: Avoid pruning tomato determinate varieties or pinch back only suckers that appear below the first flower cluster. Otherwise you will reduce your yield. Each determinate plant will produce a limited number of fruit before ceasing production. You want to help that process, not hinder it.
Q: When should I not prune my tomatoes?
A: Don’t prune tomato plants in excessively hot spells or in consistently hot climates. Too much sunlight or steady, intense sunlight can lead tomatoes to develop sunscald.
Another instance: don’t prune your main tomato stem as it splits into equally strong branches.
Q: Is pruning absolutely necessary?
A: Pruning tomato plants isn’t required. You may choose not to prune your tomatoes and still have an acceptable crop. Tomatoes require only sun, water, and nutrients to grow. Pruning enhances production, specifically yielding bigger tomatoes and to many gardener’s way of thinking, more flavorful tomatoes.
More about Pruning Tomatoes
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