I like to say that even the worst tomato from my garden is better than the best tomato bought at a grocery the store. And fortunately for those of us with veggie gardens, this time of year our plants are reaching for the sky, flowering, and fruiting with the promise of juicy, red (or whatever color) tomatoes in the near future. Which begs the question:
Should I prune my tomato plants?
Like everything else in life, the answers are never quite so simple. You see, all tomato plants can be divided into one of two categories: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate plants (or ‘bush tomatoes’) stop growing when their flower buds turn to fruit, stunting them at 3 or 4 feet in maximum height. Their smaller size makes them easier to grow in containers, and don’t require staking like their taller cousins. Determinate variety fruit all ripen at the same time, or within the same week. So in other words, you’ll never get more tomatoes once the first batch of flowers has fruited.
Compare this to indeterminate varieties that keep growing taller and taller, requiring staking or cages. These continue to flower and produce until cold weather stops them. Neither type of plant is better or worse, but it’s important to remember that indeterminates can produce large numbers of flowers and fruit over the growing season. By pruning, we are forcing the plants to focus their efforts on a smaller number of bigger, better tomatoes.
So… to prune, or not to prune? Common wisdom says never prune a determinate/bush variety. But for indeterminates, observe your plants as they grow and prune as you feel the need.
To add my two-cent’s worth: prune off the stuff that doesn’t matter, before it matters.
Start by removing the suckers, which are branches growing at an angle in-between the main plant stem and major branches. (see article image). Pruning anything off a tomato plant should be done while it’s very small, and pinched or pulled off with your fingers. If the branch has grown thicker than a pencil, it’s probably best to just let it continue to grow. (Removing larger branches can damage or even kill a plant).
Also, it’s a good idea to take out the lowest branches. Anything growing downward and laying in the dirt/mud/mulch is probably going to get wet, rot and die off anyway.
So there you have it. Now stop reading, and get out there and get your hands dirty in the garden…