AUBURN UNIVERSITY, Ala. – For many, a garden is not complete without tomato plants in it. Whether you are a producer or a backyard gardener, growing the biggest and best tomatoes is often the end goal. Pruning tomato plants can help people achieve this goal.
Dr. Joe Kemble, an Alabama Extension commercial vegetable specialist, offers the following information about pruning tomato plants.
Benefits of Pruning
Pruning helps to maintain a balance between vegetative and reproductive growth. If you don’t prune or prune sparingly, your tomato plants will produce excessive vegetative growth with reduced fruit size.
Moderate pruning will leave your plants with shorter vines and larger fruit that will mature earlier. Pruning combined with staking keeps vines and fruit off the ground, helping to manage diseases. Although pruning requires some effort, the benefits of doing so are more marketable fruit and easier harvesting.
Methods of Pruning
The most common method of pruning is to prune to a two-stemmed plant by pinching off lateral branches (suckers) as they develop in the axils of each leaf (see figure 1). To achieve this balance, remove all the suckers up to the one immediately below the first flower cluster. A single pruning will usually be adequate, although a later pruning may be needed to remove suckers growing from the base of the plant.
Suckers should be removed when small, no more than 2 to 4 inches in length. Letting them get large wastes plant energy and provides an entry point for plant pathogens. Prune early in the morning after plants have dried. Ensuring plant health by pruning is an easy pro-active way to gain better fruit and manage diseases.
For more information on pruning, visit Alabama Extension online or contact your local Extension office.