Pruning tomato plants and pinching off sucker stems are two of the best ways to improve a tomato plant’s health, vitality, and production.
Left alone to grow as they please, tomato plants grow into a tangled mess of stems, shoots, roots and leaves.
And that mess is more than just an eyesore.
There are a limited amount of resources and nutrients available to plants.
When plants become overgrown with too many stems, branches and foliage, those resources are wasted on maintaining all of that growth.
And not on producing tomatoes!
Plants need oxygen, light and water to thrive. And an overgrown plant can easily block those vital nutrients and needs.
Excess foliage is also an open invitation to pests and disease to wreak havoc on your tomato plant’s health and production levels.
Pruning Tomato Plants & Pinching Tomato Suckers
Although pruning and pinching both involve removing foliage from a plant, there is a distinct difference between the two tasks.
First, lets begin with pruning.
When it comes to pruning tomato plants, it’s all about clearing space to promote better air circulation, provide more light, and keep pests and disease at bay.
Removing Bottom Branches And Foliage
It is extremely important to clear the stems and leaves from the bottom of tomato plants.
Many of the diseases that affect tomatoes, such as blight for example, come from the soil.
Foliage that touches the ground, or is close to the ground can easily have these deadly spores splashed on to their surface directly from the soil. (See : How To Avoid Tomato Blight)
But clearing away the bottom area of plants can assist in eliminating this issue.
It also allows air to more easily circulate throughout the plants, helping to keep plants from mold and mildew issues as well.
And maybe most importantly, it makes it hard for crawling garden pests to have an easy ride onto your plants!
So how much should you prune up under your plants?
For determinate varieties that tend to grow shorter and bushier, remove the first few branches at ground level. Keeping 4″ to 6″ of space clear at ground level will work wonders.
For indeterminate and larger tomatoes, take 8 to 12″ off at the bottom of each plant as they grow to mature size. These larger plants need more space to really allow air, light and circulation in. (See : The Difference Between Indeterminate & Determinate Tomatoes)
Create Air Space In The Middle
And pruning doesn’t just stop at the bottom of the plant.
As the season progresses, remove excess foliage from the middle of the plant to allow for air and light to reach the middle of the plant.
There is no need for massive pruning in the center section, just a branch or two to open up the middle area.
Also be sure to trim back and eliminate renegade branches shoot off to the side or grow into the next row.
These wild branches use up a lot of the plants energy, and are easily damaged and broken in storms.
Remember when pruning to always use a sharp pair of hand pruners, or heavy-duty garden scissors. Clean, crisp cuts are vital to quick and healthy healing. See : Bypass Pro Pruning Shears
Also, always sure to prune in the early morning or evening to avoid the heat of the day.
Plants are at their highest stress level during the hottest portions of the day, and pruning during this period can cause unneeded stress to the plant.
Pinching Off Tomato Plant Suckers
So now lets tackle the subject of pinching off suckers.
Tomato suckers are the growth that occurs from the “V” portion or crotch between a stem and a branch.
This new growth can suck vital power and nutrients from the main stems and branches that produce fruit.
And the practice of “pinching off” simply means to remove these shoots as they appear.
Most gardeners simply pinch them back with their fingers or fingernails, which is where the term evolved from, but they can also be removed with sharp scissors or small pruners if desired.
Either way, pruning tomato plants and pinching off suckers is a sure way to a healthier and more productive crop!
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