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Pruning tomatoes—when, why and how

Jul 14, 2011 -
  Pruning tomatoes—when, why and how
Suckers grow in the axil (or crotch) of a tomato plant, where the vertical stem meets the branch. Drawing: UC Davis IPM Program.

Pruning tomatoes? Aren’t gardeners busy enough during the year, pruning roses and grapevines?

Pruning tomato suckers is not a big, hairy project—although it is fun to touch those hairy tomato stems and aromatic leaves. It’s more like a once-a-week grooming of your tomato plants.


*  Larger, earlier tomatoes—a boon for those of us with short growing seasons (or cooler-than-usual summers).

*  A slimmer plant that is easier to grow vertically.

*  A healthier plant: growing tomatoes vertically increases air circulation between the leaves, and lifts the leaves and fruit away from crawling pests.


1.  Some suggest pinching the sucker off at its base, in the axil (or crotch) of the tomato plant, where the vertical stem meets the branch.

2.  UC Davis and Purdue University recommend “Missouri pruning”, allowing two leaves to remain on the sucker and snipping off all the other sucker growth. The illustration shows Missouri pruning in action. The advantages of Missouri pruning are more photosynthesis, and more shade for the fruit (to keep sunscald at bay).


As Tricia says in our new video on tomato pruning and problem control, ONLY prune vining (indeterminate) tomatoes. The bush (determinate) tomatoes, like ‘Roma’, stop growing at a pre-determined height and should not be pruned.


So, once a week, grab your snippers and get up close and personal with your vining tomato plants. See if that gives you a bigger, earlier tomato.

Categories: Organic Seeds, Organic Heirloom Seeds, Vegetable Seeds, Tomato Seeds, Heirloom Seeds, Heirloom Tomato Seeds, Pruning & Cutting Tools, Garden Snips, Container Gardening

Marianna Hargrave Says:
Jul 19th, 2013 at 5:19 pm

How do you know if you have a vining or a bush tomato plant

Charlotte from Peaceful Valley Says:
Aug 7th, 2013 at 3:19 pm

Marianna, The easiest way to tell is if you have the name of the plant; if so you can look it up on the web and see if it is called determinate (bush) or indeterminate (vining). If you don’t have the name you will just have to watch and see if the plant stops growing when about 4 feet tall (probably bush, then) but remember not to prune the fruit if it might be a bush tomato.

Eileen Says:
Jun 9th, 2014 at 10:05 am

Should we prune cherry tomatoes? 

Stephanie Brown Says:
Jun 10th, 2014 at 8:26 am

Hello Eileen,

If the cherry tomato is indeterminate (I’ve never seen one that wasn’t), then yes, you can prune it.

James Says:
Jun 10th, 2014 at 1:32 pm

never pruned but select few feed leaves to open up plant & have always had great crop ?

Stephanie Brown Says:
Jun 11th, 2014 at 9:36 am

Pruning is optional, often you can get a great crop even without pruning.

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