How to Top Tomato Plants


Tomato plants come in two types. Determinate varieties only reach about 4 feet tall, then they stop growing upward. Indeterminate varieties continue to gain in height throughout summer and into fall, reaching heights of 6 feet or more. When trellising or staking indeterminate tomatoes, this height can be an issue, as they overgrow their supports. This can also lead to breakage and damage to the stem as the plants become top-heavy. Topping the plants encourages more lateral branching and helps prevent the plants from growing too tall.

Step 1

Remove the suckers on the tomato plant so it only produces one to two main stems. Pinch off the shoots that form between where the leaf joins the main stem. This prevents them from growing into multiple main vines and makes the tomato easier to tie to a stake or trellis.

Step 2

Prune off the top of the main vine when it reaches the desired height for the plant. Use clean, sharp pruning shears to make the cut so the plant isn't damaged.

Step 3

Pinch off the any new suckers that form where you topped the plant, as these can become new stems. Pinch them off where they form between the junction of the leaf and the topped stem or where lateral stems join the main stems.

Tips and Warnings

  • Each time you prune a tomato you chance introducing disease organisms to the plant. Sterilize shears in a solution of one part bleach and nine parts water between trimming each plant to prevent this.

Things You'll Need

  • Pruning shears


  • Clemson University Extension: Tomato
Keywords: topping tomato plants, pinch back tomatoes, vegetable pruning

About this Author

Jenny Harrington has been a freelance writer since 2006. Her published articles have appeared in various print and online publications, including the "Dollar Stretcher." Previously, she owned her own business, selling handmade items online, wholesale and at crafts fairs. Harrington's specialties include small business information, crafting, decorating and gardening.