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Tomatoes: To Prune or Not to Prune

I hear these questions every year: Should I prune my tomatoes? When? How do I do it?

tomato prune

First things first, only indeterminate-type tomatoes should be pruned. Because indeterminate plants continue to grow and produce tomatoes throughout the season, you can prune their side shoots (also known as "suckers"), whereas if you pruned determinate tomatoes that produce only once a season, you would be reducing the overall yield.

Pruning indeterminate tomatoes can increase fruit size, help tomatoes ripen faster, and help reduce disease. It will not increase the number of tomatoes you get, but you will probably get more "perfectly" shaped and sized tomatoes. Even though I love even the small or ugly tomatoes, I prune some of my tomato plants for the sheer beauty of a big, hearty tomato.

There are 3 different strategies for pruning suckers off tomatoes:


Prune only those suckers below the first flower/fruit cluster.


Wait until suckers have four leaves and prune off the top two, leaving the first two leaves to protect fruit from the sun. This is a more common practice in the south, where gardeners are cautious about the intense summer sun.


Prune off all suckers.

tomato sucker

Once you decide which way you're going to go, keep these "rules" in mind:

  • Wait until plants are almost 2′ tall before pruning.
  • Leaves should be dry. Touching wet plants can quickly spread disease.
  • Tools should be clean and sharp. I wipe mine down with rubbing alcohol to make sure I don't accidentally spread disease.
  • Prune prudently. Leaves create shade for fruit, which prevents sun damage. Leaves also make food for the plant, including sugars, resulting in energy to produce more quantities of sweeter fruit.
  • Prune early when suckers are small. This reduces the wound size and also saves the plant's energy, which can be used toward developing fruit.

Here's a tip I've gotten from one of my gardener friends: Late in the season, you can cut the top off of the plants ("topping") to prevent more flower and fruit production, directing energy to ripen the existing fruit on the vine.

By the way, I still love the tomato supports I started using used a few years ago. Re-read the blog as I have made some updates for improvement!

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Tomatoes: To Prune or Not to Prune Comments


Blog Title

5 out of 5 stars Jul 27, 2020
How do you know if a tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate?
Karen from NV
Owner Response: Hi Karen, We do indicate this on seed packets and the product pages so you can be sure to know what you are growing and of any support, you may need. Determinate plants stay shorter and don't need as much support as an indeterminate plant that continues to grow and produce. I hope that helps! Happy gardening!

Blog Title

5 out of 5 stars Feb 5, 2022
If you want More Plants of a certain variety, then save some of the largest Suckers you prune. Make sure you place at least 3/4 of sucker in a jar of water or rich potting soil. Keep damp. After a few days you will notice the ones in water are getting a good root system started. I assume the ones in soil are also as I have done this numerous times with out any wilting. Keep them in a warm area with lots of sun. Transplant them after a couple weeks in garden or in large pots. You can get a second planting with this method only maybe a few weeks to a month behind the first. Can save you money if you buy plants or time if you use seed. I have a fairly short growing season here as I'm in the Foot hills.
Murphy from WA

Blog Title

5 out of 5 stars Aug 23, 2022
On determinate tomato varieties I like to remove the first 3 suckers. I think it increases my fruit size and helps with disease problems caused by soil splashing up on the lower foliage.
Olin from MS

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