Tomato pruning is another tomato growing problem to some growers because they have not had very good experiences with it in the past, but removing tomato suckers is not so much difficult as the fact that it needs to be done regularly. This is where some growers have come unstuck. They have not pruned early enough and then are not sure how to handle the situation.
It is the indeterminate tomato plant (the larger varieties) that needs pruning because for the life of the plant it will keep producing suckers at the leaf nodes. Some growers may allow two or three suckers to develop into full stems with the intention of providing more fruit, but that is sufficient otherwise the plant won’t be able to feed the fruit sufficiently and they will be smaller rather than larger.
Pruning requires the sucker to be removed at the leaf node (where the leaf joins the main stem). When the plant is about 15 to 18 inches tall remove the lower 4 to 5 leaves as this will push the nutrients higher up the plant for stronger growth and it will also make watering and fertilizing the plant easier.
There basically are two methods of pruning:
1. The simple method
2. The Missouri method
Some simple rules to follow when pruning tomato plants using the Simple Method:
• If possible just use your finger tips to remove the suckers, rather than a knife or scissors that will leave a stump behind that can easily become infected. If the suckers are very small they only need bending backwards and forwards and they will easily break off at the right place.
• If at all possible pinch the sucker when it is only about 2 inches long as this will mean it will still be very tender and come off easily without leaving a gaping hole at the join
• If the sucker is longer and a bit leathery you will need to use a blade, preferably use a retractable blade as they are thin and won’t damage the plant the same as scissors or kitchen knife. Cut the sucker parallel to the main stem of the plant.
The Missouri method.
This method can be used under two different circumstances:
1. The grower has not had time to pinch out the small suckers for several weeks and they have gotten out of control and quite long; or
2. The suckers have purposely been left to grow and create more leaf growth so that the fruit has more leave protection from the sun at a later date. (The 2 or 3 suckers that have been left for fruiting do not get tipped but they do have the small suckers at the leaf nodes removed.)
To prune these suckers the very tip needs to be pinched off and the remaining leaves and stalk left behind. One downside of letting the suckers get long and providing more leaf cover is that now there are more joins for new suckers to grow from and more pruning to do.
The determinate tomatoes are left to grow as they are more bushy and do not grow suckers. If they are pruned it will mean that the plant will provide less fruit.
Tomato pruning is not difficult but just needs a little care so that the plant itself is not damaged. If it can be done weekly then the tomato plant should not get out of control. Ensure that any plants parts (suckers or leaves) that are removed from the plant are put in the rubbish to help with the control of disease.