Are you a tomato gardener? If so, you may be making some common pruning mistakes. In this blog post, we will discuss the 9 most common tomato pruning mistakes, plus the correct way to prune tomato plants.
The Correct Way to Prune a Tomato Plant
Before we dive into the pruning mistakes, let’s cover the 3 possible pruning strategies you could use for your tomato plants.
Pruning Lower Stems & Yellow Leaves
In all cases, you should remove the stems below the first fruit cluster on your tomato plants. The lower stems provide no value to the plant and they will eventually turn yellow. They also often touch the ground. Removing these side stems will prevent disease, improve your tomato yield, and ensure your plants look healthy.
Simple pruning is the strategy of removing the new off-shoots that grow between the main stem and the side stem of your tomato plant. These new growths are called ‘suckers’ in the gardening world. This is because they ‘suck’ nutrients away from the tomato fruit.
You can prune suckers by pinching them off with your fingers or using a sharp pair of gardening shears. It’s best to do this when the suckers are small, less than the size of a pencil.
Another way to handle suckers is to pinch them off at the tip rather than at the base. Leaving part of the shoot will allow the plant to produce shade leaves for your tomatoes, but it will also conserve plant energy for growing your fruit.
Your other option is to not prune at all. This is the simplest tomato pruning strategy, but it’s not necessarily the best. If you choose not to prune your tomato plants, be prepared for a lower yield and smaller fruit.
Tomato Pruning Mistakes to Avoid
Now that we’ve covered the correct way to prune tomato plants, let’s discuss some mistakes to avoid.
1. Pruning determinate tomato plants.
Determinate tomato plants are varieties that grow to a certain size and then stop. They produce fruit all at once and then they’re done for the season. On the other hand, indeterminate tomato plants keep growing and producing fruit throughout the entire season.
Pruning determinate tomato plants is a mistake because you could actually reduce your tomato yield.
2. Pruning when the plants are wet.
Pruning tomato plants when they’re wet is a mistake because it can spread disease. It’s best to wait until the plants are dry before you prune them.
If you must prune when the plants are wet, be sure to sterilize your shears between each cut.
3. Pruning the wrong stems.
As we mentioned before, you should only prune the lower stems and suckers. Pruning any part of the main stem or the healthy leaves around your flowers or fruit is a mistake.
Pruning any parts of the main stem will reduce the plant’s ability to produce fruit. And pruning the leaves will decrease the tomato plant’s ability to photosynthesize and create food for itself. It will also remove the sun protection for the fruit.
4. Pruning mid-day.
Pruning tomato plants in the middle of the day is a mistake because it can damage the plant. The heat of the sun can cause the plant to wilt and lose moisture. It’s best to prune tomato plants early in the morning or late in the evening when it’s cooler.
5. Pruning with dull or dirty tools.
Pruning tomato plants with dull or dirty tools is a mistake because it can damage the plant and encourage the spread of disease. It’s best to use sharp, clean shears when pruning tomato plants.
If you’re not sure if your shears are sharp enough, test them on a piece of paper. If they make a clean cut, they’re sharp enough. If they tear the paper, they’re too dull and you should sharpen them.
You should also sterilize your shears between each cut to prevent the spread of disease. You can do this by dipping them in a solution of Isopropyl Alcohol and water. Rinse thoroughly.
6. Pruning too soon
Pruning tomato plants too soon is a mistake because the plant needs time to develop its root system. Pruning too early can damage the roots and stunt the growth of the plant.
It’s best to wait until the tomato plant is at least a foot tall before you start pruning.
7. Waiting too long to prune tomato plants.
Waiting too long to prune tomato plants is a mistake because the plant can become overgrown. When tomato plants become overgrown, they produce fewer fruits and the fruits are smaller.
It’s best to prune your tomato plants every two weeks during the growing season after the plant has reached at least one foot in height.
8. Over pruning
Over pruning tomato plants is a mistake because it can stress the plant and reduce the yield. When pruning, you should only remove stems below the initial flower clusters and any suckers that are growing from the main stem.
You should also avoid pruning more than a few stems or leaves of the plant at a time. Pruning any more than that can damage the plant and reduce the yield.
9. Not topping the main stems at the end of the growing season.
If you do not top your tomato plants towards the end of the growing season, you’re missing out on a big opportunity. Topping the main stems of your tomato plants will encourage them to produce more fruit.
Topping is when you cut off the main stem of your tomato plant at the top flower cluster. This will encourage the plant to produce side shoots which will then produce fruit.
It depends on the variety of tomato, but in general, it’s best to top the main stems of your tomato plants when they’re about four to five feet tall. Doing this will encourage the plant to put all its energy into producing fruit instead of growing taller.
Tools for Pruning
Now that we’ve gone over the nine most common mistakes tomato gardeners make when pruning their plants, let’s talk about the tools you’ll need to do the job properly.
You will need a pair of sharp shears and a small ladder if your tomato plants are tall. It’s also a good idea to have a small bucket or bag to collect the stems and leaves you trim off the plant.
To sterilize your shears, you’ll need a solution of Isopropyl Alcohol and water. You’ll also need a clean cloth to wipe down the blades after each cut.
Here are our favorite pruning sheers:
The Bottom Line
Pruning tomato plants is an important part of growing healthy, productive plants. By avoiding the nine mistakes we listed above, you’ll be on your way to becoming a pro at pruning tomato plants. And, don’t forget to sterilize your shears and use sharp blades for the best results.