It is easy for some healthy plants to become too healthy, where it starts to work against itself. This is especially common with edibles like peach trees, pear trees and tomatoes. Sometimes it is necessary to ease the burden on crops by reducing yield quantity to increase yield quality. Sometimes it takes the redirecting of nutrients to put a plant on the right course.
Here in the south, our tomato plants have been planted for almost 2 months and we are getting ready to start the harvest.
Tomato plants are extremely fast growers and heavy feeders. It is common to overload a tomato plant with foliage when planted in a nutrient rich soil. Sucker pruning is where you prune off the branches that serve no purpose and only create drag on a plant, in order to redirect energy to fruit production and opening up light to the plant. You do not want your plant to spend all of its energy and nutrients feeding leaves. Pruning also creates better air circulation which is critical for preventing disease.
Which tomatoes to prune?
Because determinate varieties produce a harvest once, you will never want to prune a determinate tomato as this will reduce its yield. Indeterminate tomatoes produce blooms and fruit continuously throughout the growing season. Pruning these will help tidy up the plant, help increase yields and speed up the ripening process. Because the leaves produce sugar for the fruit, you need to find a balance with the amount of leaves that you remove.
When do I start pruning?
Once your plant reaches 12 inches in height, you can start the sucker removal process. When the plant is young, the suckers will snap off by hand, without needing pruners. Pruning while the plant is wet however will make the plant more susceptible to disease, therefore prune while the plant is dry.
Where can I find the sucker?
The sucker is the little shoot that grows in the axil of the plant where the leaf attaches to the main stem.
Later in the season, mature branches do not pinch off so pruners will be needed. Four weeks before your first expected frost date, remove the growing tips of each branch to expedite the ripening process, as to not lose fruit to frost. This is called topping, which stops flowering and redirects all sugars to the existing fruit. When there is the call for frost, remove all of your green tomatoes and let them ripen in the house, on the window sill.
Other related articles: