How To Prune Tomatoes For Maximum Yield

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So you want more tomatoes? It’s simple…. start pruning tomato plants! You’ll get the greatest yield when you learn how to prune tomato plants.

In this article, we share tips on HOW TO enjoy your tomato growing experience more with smart tomato plant pruning for better yields. Read on to learn more about how to prune tomatoes.

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Growing tomatoes is somewhat akin to growing bonsai. Training your plants and manipulating fruit production takes a lot of care and attention.

When done correctly, you will be greatly rewarded with larger fruit that actually ripens quicker. This also helps you harvest your tomatoes without jeopardizing them.

Our Favorite Pruners

When it comes to pruning, it helps to have the right tools. The Felco #2 pruner has been in our hands, pruning hundreds of thousands of plants over the past 40+ years.

Related: Learn why in our article on the Felco F-2 Classic Manual Hand Pruner

Before You Plant Tomatoes, Choose the Right Type Of Tomato

Right at the outset, it’s very important that you understand the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes.

Illustration showing parts of a tomato plant and pruning guide with labels like 'Sucker', 'Flower Cluster', and 'Growing Tip'.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @stjgreen

The determinate type of tomato grows to a determined height, usually about 4′ to 5′ feet tall, and they do not grow any taller.

You should not prune determinate tomatoes. Pruning determinate tomatoes will reduce tomato production rather than increase it.

The indeterminate varieties of tomatoes grow as tall as it possibly can.

If given space and trained, the indeterminate plant will keep growing upwards endlessly.

You want to prune indeterminate tomato plants.

Skillfully pruning indeterminate tomatoes will result in a healthy and abundant crop.

Have Good Support In Place From The Start

When you plant indeterminate tomatoes, you should begin with a method of support in place.

For good tomato production, you need to stake tomato plants with high trellises, stakes, or sturdy rope to support them as they grow tall.

A hand pinching a thick, hairy stem of a tomato plant with healthy green leaves in bright daylight.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @stjgreen

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Tomato plants firmly supported allow you to plan your pruning and to carry it out with a clear vision.

As you work with staking tomatoes, you will support the main stems and trim away the auxiliary stems or tomato suckers.

With your tomato plant and your support system in place, you will want to begin your plant pruning project. Make sure to use sterile pruning shears or sharp scissors.

Be careful not to prune away main stems or excessive amounts all at once.

Remember, your tomatoes need to have a good leaf structure for proper photosynthesis.

The main thing you want to do is trim away suckers (vegetative growth) that sprout out between the main stem and producing stems.

A person's hand pointing to new growth on a tomato plant stem, with a white arrow indicating direction of growth.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @wastenotworm

What About Tomato Plant Cages?

You won’t want to use tomato cages like these for this type of project, as the cages tend to hold all of the limbs together.

Cages make it difficult to work around and determine which needs pruning and which limbs should remain on the tomato plant.

Cages are far more suited for bush tomato determinate tomato varieties than non-determinate.

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Why Does Pruning Or Trimming Tomatoes To Increase Yield Work?

When you carefully prune and trim away nonproductive suckers and side shoots and leave healthy, producing limbs in place.

Pruning tomato plants like this will put the majority of their energy toward fruit production, not waste the tomato fertilizer applied, and not expend energy on vegetative growth, producing more and more new leaves.

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Photo Credit: Instagram

The suckers that appear between the main stem of the plant and producing stems are, in essence, new tomato plants.

The suckers take a lot of energy away from the plant, reducing the ability to produce fruit being produced by the main limbs.

When you cut away the excess, you also improve the airflow to your plants. This means a reduction in fungal diseases such as leaf spot, early blight, and powdery mildew infection.

With good airflow, plants and leaves easily dry quickly after rain and watering.

Reducing the number of leaves on your plants also makes it easier for you to control pests.

Very simply put, you can see them more easily when they have fewer hiding places.

Fewer leaves also mean more abundant sunshine for your plants and your fruit.

This adds up to early ripening. This is very helpful in areas where the growing season is short.

Indeterminate tomato varieties tend to sprawl quite vigorously if not pruned.

They continue to grow, spread and take up a lot of space.

Carefully pruned and trained tomatoes take up far less space in your vegetable garden.

Green tomatoes growing on a vine with a trellis and wooden fence in the background.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @kimaniah

Related: Learn more about – How Far Apart to Space Tomatoes.

This means that you can plant more and plant them closer together.

Even though your individual plants may have fewer tomatoes, these tomatoes will be larger.

The fact that you can successfully grow more plants in the same square footage means that you will have a bigger crop.

Moreover, pruning tomato plants also helps the foliage receive adequate sunlight. This allows the plant to photosynthesize efficiently.

If you are asking us the question – “Should you prune tomato plants?” We would say “Yes”!

Exactly, How To Prune Tomato Plants For Maximum Yield

Pruning methods vary somewhat from one gardener to another.

Some use a technique to trim tomatoes vines known as Missouri pruning. With this technique, you begin by removing any blossoms that may be on the plant when you plant it.

Hand pruning a plant with red-handled secateurs, with a garden and yellow flowers in the background.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram

This gives the plant energy to recover from transplanting and to develop leafy growth early on.

Follow-up by continuously pinching off the growing tips of the limbs, leaving just the two bottom leaves.

Continue removing flower clusters until your plants reach about 18″ inches high. This will ensure your plants develop strong roots.

When your plant develops its first flower cluster of tomatoes, examine it and cut off leafy suckers growing below that fruit cluster. As your plant grows taller, continue cutting off leafy suckers.

Always cut off below-producing limbs. Remember, the leaves growing closest to fruit clusters are the ones that deliver sugar to the fruit.

For this reason, when you prune tomatoes, don’t cut off the leaves surrounding the fruit cluster.

These leaves not only provide valuable sugar to the fruit but also help shade it from the damaging rays of the sun known as sun-scald.

How To Prune A Tomato Plant For Northern Gardens

Missouri tomato pruning to increase yield is a good method for warmer climates, but in colder climates, it’s better not to wait until the plant grows to 18″ inches to begin cutting off suckers.

Gardeners in northern regions typically remove suckers as soon as they appear, even very early on.

No matter which method you choose, it’s wisest to trim tomato plants and remove suckers when they are very small.

You won’t scar your plants if you can pinch them off with your thumb and forefinger.

If one does escape your notice and you need to cut it off, be sure that your pruner blade or sharp knife makes a clean cut.

Near the end of the growing season, it’s good tomato plant care to top off the plant. Prune tomatoes off at the growing tips so the fruit remaining on your plant will ripen fruit before the first frost.

This works because cutting off the growing tips causes the plant to stop producing flower clusters and produce new fruit.

This directs all of its energy toward the remaining fruit. This causes faster fruit ripening.

Trimming Tomatoes Will Keep the Lower Parts of Your Plants Clean!

A hand pruning a tomato plant stem with orange-handled scissors.Pin
Photo Credit: Instagram @thedallasgardenschool

One very important aspect of pruning tomatoes to will help increase the yield of tomatoes. Always keep the lower portions of the mature plant very thoroughly pruned.

Under no circumstances should your plant’s leaves ever be touching the ground. Keeping them off the soil will help keep them dry. This helps prevent disease.

Do not prune tomatoes (these are our favorite pruners – a review here) when the leaves are wet. Pruning wet leaves promote the spread of disease.

Once a plant reaches a height of 2′ or 3′ feet, it begins to produce blossoms and set fruit, cutting off the foliage a foot or less from the ground.

This increases air circulation and helps prevent fungus spores from splashing onto the lower leaves during rain.

This will help you avoid problems with tomato blight and a number of other common tomato diseases.

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