Nothing quite compares to the taste of a vine-ripened tomato fresh from the garden. In order to harvest as many of these delicious fruits as possible, you will need to prune your tomato plants. Knowing which vines to let grow and which ones to ruthlessly remove can be confusing, but it can be broken down into several easy steps. If you follow this advice, you'll have a greater harvest of flavorful tomatoes to put in salads, make sauce or add to delicious sandwiches.
Here's how to prune tomatoes.
- What kind of tomato vine do you have? Determinate tomato plants will stop growing at a certain point and direct all of their energy into producing more leaves and fruits. They tend to produce a large crop that mature all at once. Most beefsteak and sandwich tomatoes are determinate varieties.
Indeterminate tomatoes are a more vining, vigorous plant. They produce tomatoes that ripen over a period of several weeks. Cherry and salad tomatoes are usually indeterminate.
- What is your goal in pruning? Do you want extra-large, prize-winner tomatoes that may be fewer in number? Or do you want average-size ones that are abundant? Both of these are reasonable goals that can be achieved by pruning.
- What kind of pruning do you prefer? There are two types - simple and Missouri pruning. Simple pruning means to pinch the sucker between your fingers and snap it off completely. A sucker is a shoot that grows between a branch and a leaf cluster. With Missouri pruning, you pinch off just the growing tip, and allow the leaves to remain. In this method of pruning suckers off of tomatoes, more leaves mean more energy for the plant, but it also means that you will need to prune any suckers that develop on the original sucker, so it requires a lot more maintenance.
- Pruning determinate tomatoes. The first step to take in pruning a determinate tomato plant is to remove all blossoms until the plant is well-established in the garden. This helps it to direct its energy into growing stronger and bigger, instead of producing fruit too early.
Next, you'll need to remove the suckers as they appear. They have to grow quite long before they will produce fruit. This directs needed energy away from the main stem of the plant. Try to check them for suckers at least once a week. If they become too large, you risk damaging the plant when they're removed. It will also leave a larger wound in the plant stem, which is a larger entrance for disease and pests.
Near the end of the growing season, you'll need to "top" the plant. Topping means pinching off the growing tip, or tips, of the plant. It's necessary to do this so that the remaining fruits have a chance to ripen. Otherwise, you'll have a very large crop of hard, unripe tomatoes - not so desirable unless you're a big fan of fried green tomatoes!
If you want very large tomatoes suitable for entering in county fairs and impressing your friends, you can remove all but one blossom from each cluster. The plant will direct all of the energy from that stem into a single tomato.
- Pruning indeterminate tomatoes. The matter of pruning indeterminate tomatoes is a bit more complex. However, it is a necessary task. Indeterminate tomato plants will form as many as ten vines, if left on their own. This means that the plant ends up lying on the ground, an easy target for disease and pests. The tomatoes that are produced are more susceptible to rot and sun-scald.
The first step, just as with determinate tomatoes, is to remove all blossoms until the plant is between twelve and eighteen inches tall. Next, remove all suckers below the first fruit cluster. You can continue to remove all suckers if you want just a single vine. However, most people prefer to let two or three vines grow. To do this, let a second stem grow just above the first fruit cluster. If you would like a third stem, let the sucker just above this stem grow, also. Keeping the side stems close to the first fruit cluster ensures that they will be strong and have enough energy to produce abundant fruit.
Now you know how to prune tomato plants. Some people choose not to prune their tomatoes at all. The fruit that is formed on unpruned plants is generally smaller than and not as flavorful as that of a pruned plant, although it is more plentiful. Although this can be a tedious chore, it's immensely satisfying to harvest a large crop of juicy, healthy tomatoes all season long!