How to Prune Tomato Plants

Pruned tomato plants: looking pretty spiffy after their “haircut”.

Tomato Plants

Every vegetable gardener I know grows tomato plans (and basil!). Tomatoes are a great vegetable to start with. They are pretty hardy and they produce reliably well. However, it is important to know how to prune your plants to ensure you get the best harvest. Let’s take a look.

Why Prune?

Although you might be able to get away with not pruning tomato plants, it probably wouldn’t work out for the best. Pruning ensures two things:

  1. You will get a better harvest.
  2. You will protect your plant from getting fungus from soil.

Let’s look at the first reason. Do you know how severely rose bushes or grape vines are cut back? A lot. This is to ensure they produce flowers and fruit. Tomato plants are not cut back quite as severely, but it is important to remove unnecessary branches that are either too small or too hidden from the sun. These branches won’t produce as much fruit.

You may ask yourself, why not just leave them? What harm are they doing? The problem is that the roots of the plant take up nutrients, and those nutrients can only do so much. Do you want the nutrients to produce an overly leafy plant? Or do you want the nutrients to go toward fruit production? Fruit production, of course! Bring on the tomato sandwiches, the tarts, the marinara sauce and the caprese salads. Get those plants producing by breaking off the unnecessary branches.

Overgrown tomato plants are in need of a good pruning.

The second reason is to protect the plant from fungal disease. Fungus lives in soil. While it’s not a guarantee your plant will pick up a fungal disease, it is a risk. Removing the lower branches from the tomato plant will prevent soil from splattering up onto the plant when it rains or when you water. Mulching around the tomato plant also helps prevent fungal disease.

These lower leaves have likely been damaged by soil splattering up. Snap these branches off.

Determinate vs. Indeterminate

There are two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties only grow to a specific, smaller size. These are great options for pots or not much space in a garden. Sometimes they are called patio tomatoes. Indeterminate varieties just keep growing. These are the kinds that do well in cages and often need to be staked or trellised even beyond the cage.

When it comes to pruning, you always want to prune the lower branches of both varieties. This helps prevent fungal disease. But you don’t need to prune beyond that for determinate varieties. They will generally produce a consistent amount of tomatoes, even if it may be a bit less due to their size.

Determinate varieties, on the other hand, really benefit from a severe pruning. Break off smaller branches lower on the plant to ensure a good harvest.

How to Prune Tomato Plants

If you focus on the lower branches, it’s hard to go wrong. Take a look at where each branch is leading. Is it a thicker branch that has flowers or fruit buds starting? Or is it a thinner branch that is near the bottom and doesn’t get a lot of sunlight? Focus on those first.

Prune lower, thinner branches that don’t get much sun.

Next, look at the thicker branches that have flowers or buds on the ends. Near the base, you will likely see some skinny branches starting. Snap those off, as they will suck up nutrients without producing fruit.

It’s basically as simple as that. You can do this more than once in the beginning of the growing season if the tomatoes start to get overgrown or bushy again.

Prune tiny branches that come off of bigger ones

Your Turn

You can do this! Don’t be afraid of giving your tomato plants a good thinning out. It will help them produce a plentiful harvest. Let me know in the comments below how it works out for you (and, perhaps more importantly, what recipes you make!).

Happy gardening!

Until next time,