How to Prune Tomato Plants for Suckers

Overview

Both determinate and indeterminate tomato types grow suckers. However, determinate types are genetically programmed to know when to stop making foliage and start producing flowers and fruit. Indeterminate types, if left alone, would produce much more foliage than fruit. By pruning suckers, you are telling your indeterminate tomato plant to channel its energies (and sugars) into making fruit, not foliage. Luckily, pruning suckers is easily done as long as you are observant. You do not even need special tools for the job; in fact, tools can harm your tomato plants.

Step 1

Watch your indeterminate tomato plants carefully. Observe the branches coming off the main stem in the center of the plant, as well as the smaller branches that will inevitably form between the branches and the main stem.

Step 2

Pinch off one of those smaller branches between your thumb and forefinger, right at the base; it is a sucker. Bend it backward and forward gently until it pops off between your fingers. Do this when suckers are 2 inches or less long, if possible. If you let them grow longer, they take more energy away from tomato production.

Step 3

Repeat this pruning whenever you see suckers appear. Stop them sooner rather than later to encourage growth of tomato flowers and fruit. Prune any branches below where the first flower clusters appear as well, also using the pinching method.

Step 4

Discard pruned suckers in your compost heap, if you have one.

Tips and Warnings

  • Pruning shears are bad for tomato plants. They cause larger open wounds on the plants' tender surfaces, which can invite pests and disease. By pinching off suckers with your fingers, you create a much smaller wound that is more easily healed. Always wash your hands thoroughly before handling your tomato plants. Avoid touching tomato plants or being anywhere near them directly after smoking. Touching tomato plants after handling any form of tobacco heightens the risk of transmission of tomato-tobacco mosaic virus. Tomato-tobacco mosaic virus is a worldwide threat that affects other members of the tomato family as well, including peppers.

References

  • Fine Gardening: Pruning Tomatoes
  • Garden Action: How to Prune Tomatoes in the UK
  • University of Minnesota Extension: Tomato-Tobacco Mosaic Virus Disease
Keywords: tomato sucker pruning, indeterminate tomato care, tomato plant tips

About this Author

Amrita Chuasiriporn is a professional cook, baker, and writer. In addition to cooking and baking for a living, Chuasiriporn has written for several online publications. These include Chef's Blade, CraftyCrafty, and others. Additionally, Chuasiriporn is a regular contributor to online automotive enthusiast publication CarEnvy.ca. Chuasiriporn holds an A.A.S. in culinary arts, as well as a B.A. in Spanish language and literature.