Pruning Your Tomato Plants Isn’t Vital for a Great Harvest

Pruning the suckers off tomato plants isn’t mandatory, but merely a personal gardening style.

I was always advised to prune my tomato plants, so I always did. When I started gardening I trusted all sage advice from anyone who had a harvest to prove their credibility. I understand the theory and benefits of pruning tomatoes but I’m not sure I fully agree that it’s vital to a great harvest.

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Black Krim tomatoes

This year I have seven varieties of tomato growing in my garden. Some I grew from seed, and some I bought as seedlings from my local nursery. The ones sprouted at my house are thriving and flowering, while the purchased ones already have large green fruit. I planted the seeds indoors on April 11, started hardening them off (exposing them to the outdoor elements in small stages) in mid-May, and planted them in raised beds at the end of May.  I will plant my seeds sooner next year to have fruit at this time of year like the nursery ones do.

I left one bed of tomato plants unpruned. I see two differences when compared to the pruned plants: more foliage and more flowers.

Why spend precious time pinching off every single sucker when they flower and turn into more tomatoes?

What’s a sucker on a tomato plant?

Suckers are the thin sprout of growth that pops up between two other main branches.

The Theory Behind Removing Suckers

The theory is that if the suckers are removed the main branches can live without competition, allowing them to hog all the energy from the roots. This enables the plant to grow bigger fruit that ripens faster. Also, less leaves means better air flow through the leaves so there is less chance of mould or diseases.

Reasons to Leave the Suckers on a Plant

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Black Krim tomatoes in the making.

Photosynthesis. Every gardener knows that leaves act as the plant’s solar panels, catching as much sun as possible. The leaves use the sun’s energy to convert carbon dioxide and water into sugar. This sugar is plant food. The more leaves the better for this process to occur.

The suckers will quickly grow into branches that will flower and bear fruit. It may take longer than a pruned bush but you will get more tomatoes in the end.

Every time you pull a branch off you risk skinning or cracking the connecting branches. This can cause rot or a weak spot where disease can get in.

The Verdict

It would seem that picking suckers is solely a personal preference amongst gardeners.

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Heavily pruned white tomato plant stalk. Notice the scars where four branches were cut.

I don’t think it’s necessary to pinch off every single sucker that grows. It should be done on an as needed basis to thin the plant only in areas that are overgrown. I do think the base of the plant should always be heavily pruned to reveal only the stalk. This allows airflow under the plant where it meets the soil. Leaves that lay in damp soil can rot and create problems. The leaves underneath don’t get enough sun to contribute heavily to photosynthesis so they won’t be missed.  I always remove the bottom branches until there is a gap between the lowest hanging branch and the soil.

If you want bigger tomatoes sooner and you don’t mind a smaller yield, then prune them regularly. If you want a larger harvest of medium-sized tomatoes and don’t mind waiting a bit longer for them to ripen, then just prune as needed.

No judgements! Just do what works for you.

What do you do in your own garden?

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2 thoughts on “Pruning Your Tomato Plants Isn’t Vital for a Great Harvest

  1. I’ve tried a bit of plucking the suckers but I don’t think it was a good idea – mainly because I made the mistake of breaking half the plant(I’m brilliant, I know). I have many branches down low that are touching the soil; I’m unsure if I should be cutting those away to prevent bugs or disease…suggestions?

    • Hi nannygrannie! I have also made the mistake of breaking off more branch than intend haha. I prune my tomato plants from the ground up until no leaves are touching the ground. I suggest a pair of sharp garden shears so it’s a clean and precise cut. I would love to see pics of your plants! 🙂

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