Tomato Pruning Made Simple

Video by Danielle Sherry. Edited by Kara Demos.

I hate pruning my tomatoes. Like a lot of folks, I don’t have the time (or patience) to prune tomatoes the way they are supposed to be pruned. Cutting out all the suckers on one indeterminate tomato could literally take hours—and forget about it if you have more than one plant. Like most things in life, what I really want to know is how little effort I can put in and still get great results. To give myself more free time, I developed a plan where I divided the tomato growing season into four critical periods when I need to prune. Amazingly, doing these quick fixes every year has led to bigger harvests and more time to sit on the couch. These four easy steps are all you’ll need to do to prune your tomatoes this year.

STEP 1 : Get the foliage off the ground

A week or two after transplanting, trim off all the leaves or stems that touch the ground. This should also include those tricky stems that are about to touch the ground. This helps keep diseases at bay that can transfer to plants from soil splashing onto the foliage. Keep an eye out in the following weeks to hack off any rogue plant parts that start reaching for the ground as well.

STEP 2 : Cut off all the squidlike arms

By early summer, your plants have usually hit their teenage growth spurt, with the plants tripling in size seemingly overnight. Prune off stems that reach far outside the cage or support device you’ve set in place. This helps keep plants to a manageable size and the garden from becoming an out-of-control jungle.

STEP 3 : Thin out the center

In late spring to early summer, cut or pinch out a third of the center of the plant’s foliage to allow better airflow and more sun to reach and ripen fruit. For areas in the Deep South where sunscald might be an issue, you may want to be more judicious and remove only a quarter of the plant’s density.

STEP 4 : Practice the late-season chop

Begin by envisioning the United States, then bisect the country from west to east. If you live south of that line, do the chop around the 4th of July. If you live north of that line, do the chop around Labor Day. The chop simply means hacking off the tops of your tomato plants so they are only 5 to 6 feet tall. This forces the plant to spend what’s left of its energy into ripening the green fruit below the cuts, as opposed to setting more immature fruit at the top of the plant (which will never ripen before the season ends).


More about growing healthy tomatoes:

5 Great New Tomato Varieties

How to Plant Tomatoes

4 Ways for Staking Tomatoes

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