What is Pruning:
The process of pruning vegetative growth is to cut away (branch, bud, root, or stem) overgrown, dead, or unwanted parts. This is most often done in an effort to increase “good” growth that is more likely to increase the fruitfulness of a given tree, shrub, bush or vine. Many growers not only prune plants to increase the overall fruitfulness of the plant, but also to direct and shape the plant. This can increase the vitality and overall health of a plant as well. Generally though, the main goal of pruning a plant is often to maintain, or increase the plant’s health, to increase the quality of the plant flowers, and to increase the quality of the plant’s fruits. Pruning a plant can take a little time and effort, but the harvest benefits can be worth the investment.
Why Prune Tomato Plants:
Tomato plants can grow rather quickly and so pruning the plant can help a grower achieve more robust growth and production. During initial phases of tomato plant growth, plant leaf growth is strong and the size of the plant can double in weeks. Determinate tomato plants (bush variety) are not as likely as indeterminate (vine variety) to quickly grow out of control. Within several weeks time, an indeterminate tomato plant can grow so much that if left unsupported and without pruning, the plant may drop over given its own weight and then slowly spread a tangled mess of branches upon the ground. If your tomato plants are left to their own growth and get this far out of control, you may be entering the point of no return. The branches begin to entangle and grip blades of grass, or other nearby plants, and it can be next to impossible to untangle them without injuring the plant in the process. And once the tomatoes are left to develop upon the ground, a whole host of other negative consequences are now possible for your plant. So this being said, it can be a good idea to proactively prune and support tomato plants properly. A proactive approach will help a grower avoid the associated pitfalls, such as plant disease.
Take the time to learn a little about proper pruning technique because a little extra sacrifice now will result in more of a reward for the grower later. In my growing situations, I prefer to grow the bush variety tomato plants and so pruning and scaffolding for the plants is not often as necessary as it might be if you grow the vine (indeterminate) tomato plant.
It should be noted that pruning can be a personal preference and can be a controversial topic. Some do not believe the pruning a tomato plant is necessary and can actually be problematic in some cases. I will touch on the consequences, positive and negative, regarding the tomato plant pruning process. Generally speaking though, a pruned tomato plant may yield a little less, but the quality of the yield may be bigger and better.
Steps to Pruning a Tomato Plant:
It is generally accepted to begin the pruning process when the tomato plant gets to be approximately 2 feet tall. Since the vine variety can grow quite large, this is the variety I am referring to for the pruning process. The reason a grower should wait until the tomato plant grows to this size is to improve the likelihood that the plant is strong enough to absorb the process of pruning. Remember, the act of pruning is kind of like plant surgery. We need to make sure the plant is healthy enough for the operation. If the plant is too young and too weak, the act of pruning could have negative consequences.
When pruning tomato plants, the grower is looking for tomato suckers. What is a tomato sucker? Well, tomato suckers are side shoots, or growth that appears in the “crotch” between the stem and the branch. If these are allowed to continue growing, they will eventually grow into meaty stems with branches. Ultimately, these branches will continue to develop, flower, and fruit. The new branches will eventually grow additional suckers and this process replicates.
Many consider pruning to promote the healthy growth and fruit of the tomato plant as a the growing season extends. Suckers that develop on the tomato plant from mid-season on are considered by some to be less productive, develop in an inferior manner, and produce fruit that can be of lower quality. Basically, as more suckers develop higher up the plant, the more difficult it can be for the plant to sustain all functions in a quality way that results in quality fruit. Growers may decide it is best to remove suckers later in the season and higher on the plant because the plant’s sugar concentration travels up. The higher up the plant, the harder it is for the plant to push resources to where they need to be. If the suckers higher on the plant are pruned, more resources may be directed to lower extremities in a more efficient and effective way. This is one reason pruning can be an effective strategy.
Pruning can help plant progress and production. Eventually, plant growth can become overwhelming and potentially detrimental. This part is controversial however, and so I leave the ultimate decision up to you the grower. Some growers prefer to prune some of the suckers, and some prefer to leave some. Some growers prefer to leave all suckers and work consistently to scaffold and support the extra growth. I prefer to prune and monitor my growth, but this is a growers individual and independent call. I suggest experimenting with different plants and determine for yourself what action you feel is appropriate for growing vine variety tomato plants. It can be a trial an error type of process. My own personal preference is to leave some suckers on the lower portion of the plant. This way, the additional growth is more easily supported with some basic lower level scaffolding. I prune the suckers that grow on the plant halfway up and higher so that the growth does not become top heavy and unmanageable. I believe this can lead to a better quality of yield.
Potential Negatives Associated with Pruning Tomato Plants:
As stated earlier in this post, one negative consequence associated with pruning a plant too early is that the plant might not be robust and mature enough to withstand the shock of being pruned. Pruning many suckers, especially in environments that are very sunny and hot, can leave the plant over exposed to the sunlight. This could result in a severe case of tomato plant sunburn that could ultimately kill off growth.
Additionally, a grower should keep in mind that pruning can decrease plant growth which could result in decreased production. This can be the case with determinate tomatoes. Since the determinate variety produce a limited number of fruit in one particular time setting, over-pruning can drastically decrease fruit at harvest time. As I stated earlier, pruning is kind of like plant surgery and some mistakes can, and will likely, occur. This is why a grower needs to venture into the process of pruning with an open mind and a willingness to learn from the experience. In this way, the grower can grow as well.
What to Use When Pruning Tomato Plants:
One can use their fingers or pruners when pruning tomato plants. The finger method is called rolling. This method involves using your thumb and forefinger to pinch off the extra growth (sucker). A grower can also use pruners to cut the suckers and bigger shoots. This action can also be developed through trial and error, and eventually personal preference will give the grower direction.
To Prune or Not To Prune:
In the end, it is completely up to the grower’s personal preference to prune tomato plants. Pruning is definitely not a necessity and as I stated earlier, preference to prune may be dependent on the specific variety of tomato plant one decides to grow. In my opinion however, especially for the indeterminate tomato variety, pruning can make the growth process for the tomato plant more efficient and ultimately lead to a healthier plant that is able to produce big flavorful tomatoes! Happy pruning if you decide, and as always, happy tomato growing!