In the early weeks of summer in Texas it is already hot and everyone’s favorite seasonal crop, tomatoes, are busy growing. By the end of the summer, they will become a massive beast, spilling into walkways and growing straight out of tomato cages.
Thankfully tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to prune and the overall plant health is better supported with a couple easy tricks. Let’s go over the benefits of pruning, how to prune tomato plants, and different things to look for along the way to keep your tomato plants as happy as possible throughout the summer.
Main benefits of pruning:
- Less “leggy” plant, meaning it doesn’t have crazy new branches reaching out all over and can support the weight of the main stalk or stem better.
- Pruning allows more energy for the important part, tomato growing! By cutting off extra growth, the plant can use energy it would have spent developing that extra stalk to grow fruit instead.
- Cutting away extra plant matter also creates more space for air to move around the plants which can help keep disease and rot away.
Best time to prune:
Try not to prune during the hottest parts of the day, that is the time the plant is under the most amount of stress. Prune in the morning when it’s not so hot or later in the evenings. The plants will need pruning throughout the season as they grow. I’ve noticed that as it gets closer to fall the new growth shoots it sends off are fewer and further between.
The easiest thing is making a regular practice of walking through and pinching off tiny suckers before they turn into stalks that need cutting.
Do NOT prune plants that are smaller than one or two feet tall, as they can go into shock and may not recover.
Step 1: Identify the main stalk, this will be the main stem coming out of the ground and growing up. It is not always straight.
Step 2: Identify the leaf shoot growing from each growth point. It will be closer to the ground and can be smaller than the sucker if it’s the first time you’re pruning or haven’t done it in a bit.
Step 3: Snip or pinch off the sucker, getting as close to that growth point at possible.
Pro tip: Make clean cuts with scissors or pruners, don’t leave twisted stringy pieces where a sucker used to be.
Step 4 (optional): You can now take any sizable suckers, strip off the bottom set of leaves and plant the whole thing at least 4-5 inches deep, the bigger the sucker the deeper it should be planted. Pack the dirt around the base so you have a baby tomato plant sticking out of the grown, and make sure to keep it watered!
If disease and rot are more common in your garden, be sure to sanitize your scissors or pruners before getting started. The quickest way to do this is using plain ol’ hand sanitizer, rub the liquid on and let it dry a couple seconds and you are good to go!
As your tomatoes grow continue checking in on them and make sure if they are starting to fall over that you give them something to climb on. Good support can be in the form of a tomato cage, sticks and wires, string and scrap wood, or check out some of the cool trellis designs from Morning Chores!
By Kylie Treekin
Farm Manager at Whisper Valley and practitioner of Permaculture and regenerative farming systems. You can find me with my hands in the dirt, constantly observing, learning, and growing a better future for the Earth and its people.