How to Prune Tomatoes for Maximum Yield and Plant Health

In the gardening world, tomatoes have the most strategies for pruning and they can be quite confusing. So in this video we're going to go deep into the world of the tomato to understand if you should prune and if you should, how you should do it.

And even how the way you decide to grow the tomato affects the pruning strategy. There's a lot of debate, I think in the tomato growing world about, oh, what's the best way? There really is not one singular best way for many varieties.

And so that's why I wanted to approach the video this way. Hopefully to give you a little bit more insight, a little deeper look. So without further ado, oh, by the way, at the end of the video, I'm going to show you something you should do at the end of the season for pruning as well.

So stay tuned for that. But without further ado, cultivate that Like button for incredible, amazing tomato harvests. And let's get into it. First of all, why should you even prune a tomato? What's the, what's the purpose? What are the benefits that you gain? Well, you don't have to technically, but I think myself and pretty much anyone else who has experienced growing tomatoes would say that you should.

The reason why is because it's multifaceted really. You have leaves, right? So the leaves of your plants are effectively just energy factories. Now, if you have a nice, crazy bushy tomato, well what happens to the leaves on the interior? They're basically just getting shaded out and so they're not really doing that much for the plant.

And you can almost think of them in the world of a factory or an office as like an unproductive worker. What happens to unproductive workers? They get fired, right? And so we're going to fire those by pruning those out and thinning that out.

That also increases air flow throughout the tomato plant. So tomatoes really are susceptible to a lot of different types of diseases – early blight, Septoria leaf spot – all things that can decimate a plant.

And they thrive in conditions that are humid, moist and there's not a lot of air circulation, so by pruning you actually open that up quite a bit. Another thing that you'll do is by pruning out the lower layer, you actually give yourself the ability to interplant down there without it being shaded out.

So as a tomato grows up, what a lot of people will do is they'll also prune off some of these bottom branches and that'll free it up, keep the disease off from the soil and also allow them to plant in.

Now let's talk about indeterminate and determinate tomatoes. The first thing we have to talk about are the categories of tomatoes and your main two are going to be your determinate and your indeterminate, right? And so just the names alone kind of give away some of the characteristics you might expect from these two types.

Determinate tomatoes are called that because their height and life span is determined. They get to about four to five feet tall and their final bud at the top is a flower bud, much like this one right here.

And so they don't have any more potential to grow. Now determinate tomatoes are great because they grow in a short defined growing season where the fruit often ripens at or near the exact same time.

And so if you have a short growing season and you want a consistent amount of fruit to come right out at one time, determinate can be a great idea. Also, they're much more compact. So if you're short on space, they're a great idea.

Now pruning them is different than pruning indeterminate. So indeterminate tomatoes, as the name implies, their terminal bud doesn't really exist. It just keeps growing until the season kills it off.

So if you're in a climate like mine and you have some space, indeterminate can be a really good idea. And when I say climate like mine, I mean San Diego is zone 10b. Some people in our climate, myself included, can grow tomatoes well into November.

And I've even seen some people overwinter their tomatoes, which is really crazy and it's just not something you think that you could do, but certainly it happens. Now, when it comes to other random types, you have things like dwarf indeterminate tomatoes, which have been bred to have a compact growing habit, but technically are still indeterminate.

For the purposes of this pruning video, I'll put them in the category of determinate as far as the pruning strategy. And let's get into that pruning strategy right now. Understanding the basics of tomato anatomy is essential for pruning.

So first of all, we have the main main stem, and you'll know why I'm calling that in a second. This is the main main stem. Now, what's coming off right here? Well, this is just your basic sun leaf.

This is just a leaf that's here to produce a bunch of energy to send into the next piece that we can identify right here, which is a flower bud. You've got a bunch of them right here. Of course, this is what produces our tomato fruits.

Now you'll notice this keeps going up, right? Our main leader as we'll call it, keeps going up, but what's this? This is coming out at a roughly 45 degree angle between the main stem and a leaf node and it looks like it kind of is producing a lot of the other pieces we've already seen.

There's another leaf, there's another leaf, and it even seems like we might have the beginning of a little flower bud forming right about there. Well, this is called a sucker and on indeterminate tomatoes and determinate alike, you'll see these.

Now the pruning strategy changes, but this is really what you want to keep your eye on when it comes to pruning tomatoes because these are the guys that can really hamper and/or enhance the growth of your plant.

Now you know this is a sucker because if we follow the plant upwards, we see another leaf node, we see another young flower node, which you can barely see right here. I'll bend it down just slightly.

You can see it right there. So we know that this is a sucker. The danger would be to cut this off without confirming and then maybe you've cut off the main one and you've hampered the growth of the plant completely.

I've swapped out our honking indeterminate tomato for this determinate variety that grows really well in a grow bag, provided you support it a bit. Let's talk about how to prune these because it's much easier than pruning an indeterminate.

On a determinate variety tomato the pruning is very simple. Just locate the first flower bud, which is right about here on this plant, it's just not open yet. And you'll want to remove the suckers anywhere below that and that's it.

You don't really have to do anything else. I suppose if you have some leaves that are touching the ground down here, you may want to chop those off. Now the thing about it, and you can see one of the suckers right here, is if it's young like this you can just snap it off.

And I'm going to get a little closer so you can see it. So the sucker is right here. Now I could come through with my pruning snips and snip it, but it's so young that I can just pinch it off with my fingers.

And that actually will cause a little bit less damage. If it's bigger, you do want to come through and slice it with your shears. I'm just going to remove this sun leaf right here because it is touching the ground and it's seeming like it's suffering a little bit, so we don't want to introduce disease.

And finally, here's an example of the last sucker below the first flower node. This is larger, so I'm going to come through with sterilized shears and clip that off. That's it for a determinate variety guys.

You don't want to hamper it by cutting anything off above the first flower node. At that point, you're just deleting fruit from your plant and you don't want to do that. We're just cleaning up the undercanopy just slightly, letting this grow.

Just remember to support this and now let's move on to indeterminate. With indeterminate tomatoes, you have a lot more options because it is up to how you decide to grow the plant. If you wanted, you could just let it sprawl all over the ground and grow.

Of course, that's going to probably introduce a little more disease and it's going to take up a lot more horizontal space, so I don't recommend it. But it's a thing that you could do. Now, the first thing I'm going to do is a basic cleanup.

Before we get into talking about some of the more detailed strategies, I'm just going to take off some of this low growth that isn't really serving the plant. This leaf is just smashing right into the soil.

It's not looking that good, and in fact, it does show a little bit of sign of disease, so I'll take that off. Now, the thing about indeterminates is every sucker has the ability to become a piece of the plant that produces every other piece of the plant.

It's kind of like Medusa. You cut off one head and you get two more. That's kind of how suckers work in the world of tomatoes. It's kind of hard to see on this plant because it's a very large plant that is a little unruly.

I purposely didn't prune it just to do it for this video. But we do have our main stem right here. Now with indeterminates you can prune every sucker off so you have what's called a single leader.

So one main stem that's producing all of the flower buds that are producing all the fruit. You can let one sucker go and that is a secondary main stem. So a double leader, you can go three, four. I wouldn't go probably past four cause at that point there's not really a point to pruning at all.

And so what I could do here is I can say, okay, here's my main leader right here and now I need to identify where the rest of the suckers are. So I need to come through and probably do a decent cleanup here.

By the way, when you cut, that was way too close to my eye. When you cut the suckers off, you can save them because at the end I'll also show you how you can propagate from those very easily and have yourself a little backup tomato crop.

It's going to be a little hard to see guys, but we have our main leader right here. So already I'm seeing this sucker I really don't need, so we'll take that guy off right there. We have another large sucker right here, so I have the option to let this stay.

You can see there's a sun leaf I took off right there because it was hitting the ground. So I have the option to let this stay or take that off. There's a really low one right here. I'm going to remove this one because it's just simply not necessary.

So we'll take that guy off. Remember, this is a sun leaf. This is a sun leaf. We're going to leave that. Another sun leaf, another sun leaf. If it's accessing sun, you want to leave those guys.

So we have another sucker that's a little lower right here. I'm also going to remove this one. So it's starting to clean up a little bit. Now remember, it's easier to see our main stem here now.

So we have our main stem. We have another sucker here, another sucker here, and another one here. Now I'm going to select for a double leader. So I'm going to have my main stem right here and I'm going to choose one more to produce.

And so I'm going to take off, let's see, I'm going to take off something that doesn't already have fruit on it or buds. So I'll take this guy off right here. And I'm also going to take off, I think probably this, this one because this one is less developed.

So we'll take that off. So now I have one, two. And there's just one more sucker up here that I need to remove. So we're going to take that guy off. And I'm doing this way too late. So don't wait as long as I've waited.

Actually you can see, look, we have our main stem, there's another one and there's another one. So I'm going to leave this as a triple leader I guess because we have one, two, three, but that's it.

Anything else I'm going to take off. Suckers can create suckers, by the way. It's like a sucker-ception. So if you let it go crazy, and sometimes these things grow really fast, you can miss some and then your tomato plant can get unruly.

So really get in there and inspect. Here's the final sucker I can see on this plant. So we'll just chop this guy off and now we have a clean indeterminate tomato. Now that we've cleaned off a lot of these suckers, this is actually my favorite part of pruning tomatoes is cloning them and making more.

So if they're diseased or damaged or anything, you certainly don't want to do this. But if you're in a warm climate that can have two seasons worth of tomatoes, then you just got a free plant right here.

So what you might want to do, if you're going to propagate this in soil, is you could take this leaf off, for example, bury this in soil right to there, and you have a free plant. Because remember the tomato stem has totipotency or the ability to produce the roots around the entire main stem.

So when you bury this in soil, boom. I have another heirloom Costoluto Genovese plant right here, ready to go. So I'll just prepare these really quick and we'll talk in a second about the final thing you'll want to do when pruning an indeterminate at the end of the season.

Now that our indeterminate tomato is looking a lot cleaner, it's off to a great start. We've taken out a lot of those leaves and those suckers that were going to take a bunch of energy away from the three main leaders that we're going to use to grow this plant.

I'm just going to add this in. And let's talk about the final pruning you'll need to do. And this is probably the most painful one because at the end of the season, remember indeterminates, their season ends when the weather kills them.

So when you sense that's coming for your region, what you want to do is something called topping. Now it's exactly what you avoided doing throughout the growing season. Topping is taking off that top tip of growth so the plant has no ability to put on any more vegetative growth.

What that's doing is that's saying, hey, it's time for you to put all your energy into those delicious fruits, the reason that we're growing this, and sayonara. So you're going to decapitate your tomato at the top and then you're going to let those fruits mature.

But guys, tomatoes, there are probably dozens of little micro tips that I didn't cover in this video, but I hope this was an informative look to kind of demystify the magical tomato. It's a fantastic plant.

It's probably the most popular plant, like I've mentioned. But there's just a lot of confusion about it. And of course for myself as well, as I continue to learn. So if you have a particular tip, drop it down in the Comments.

Remember, it's the Epic Gardening community. We're all learning together. But until next time, I'm going to take this alien-looking tomato trellis, go out in the front yard and put it back in the sun.

Source : Youtube