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Cutting, pinching off and pruning tomato plants

I want to get a good harvest from my tomatoes outdoors. Of course, this means a lot of pruning! I have a few methods of pruning tomato plants I wanted to share with you.

Tomato Crimson Crush, in my coompanion planting with corn.


Tomato plants can grow really large. The leaves take up a lot of space, and they might even shade the tomatoes so that they can't ripen properly.

I have been growing most of my tomatoes outdoors these past few years, and I make sure to take good care of the leaves. This is especially important for taller varieties. It's slightly colder outside than in the greenhouse and the season is, of course, shorter there too, that's why it's so important to give the tomatoes plenty of light and nutrients. Now, pruning tomato plants is the next step!


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En liten kvist i bladvecket på en tomatplanta.

A new little stalk is growing in the leaf axil. Pinch or cut it off.  I sometimes need to put my foot down when pruning tomato plants.


Pinch off

Most of you have probably heard that you should pinch off tomato suckers. We do this to help the tomato plant focus on growing the main stem and tomatoes, instead of producing lots of little suckers.

Pinching off tomato suckers is really easy. They grow by the leaf axil and I just use my fingers to remove them. You could, of course, use secateurs too if you want to. Try removing the suckers when they are still quite small. If you allow them to grow larger, you might mistake them for the main stem and accidentally cut it instead.

Some people allow more than one main stem on their plant, for example, two of them. I tried it too and it actually works really well! It does get a bit more difficult to keep the plant small this way though.

You can use larger suckers to propagate tomatoes, and these plants usually produce an early harvest. Read more about this in the article How to plant tomato suckers.  You can usually take cuttings until May or the first week of June, but it will be too late after that.


En sekatör klipper av ett tomatblad.

I'm removing large leaves on my tomato plant. Pruning tomato plants will make it easier to do companion planting with for example corn later.


Remove leaves

Removing leaves is a great way to speed up the growth of new tomatoes. I use this trick often for my plants outside. Removing some of the leaves will help the sun reach the tomatoes, and they will ripen faster. The plant will focus more energy on growing the tomatoes if you remove some of the leaves too.

I remove all of the leaves up to the first tomato bunch on the main stem. When the plant grows, I cut even more leaves. I make sure to keep a nice plume of leaves in the top though so that the plant can keep growing.

Some tomato varieties have very large foliage, and some of them develop new stalks from tomato bunches. Stalks that want to flower and live on of course. But I have to put my foot down if I want to get a good harvest from my plants outside. The extra stalks will have to go as well.


En hand håller i en liten tomatkvist.

Another tomato sucker I have to remove.


Cutting the tomato plants

The plants grow quite tall in summer and I often notice bunches of green tomatoes that I know won't ripen in time. That's when I cut the top off the tomato plants. This is a great way to keep the plant from growing even larger and instead ripening the fruits. I cut them when they grow to around my shoulder.


En tomatplanta växer i en blå hink.

The tomato plants in my buckets are growing nicely. I'm filling the bucket up with more soil and grass clippings as I go along.


This is the pruned version of the same plant. Tomato plants grow quickly though so make sure to keep an eye on them.


The plants look slightly worse for wear at the end of the season after this treatment. But I don't feel too worried about it! I want to get a big and nice harvest, preferably without late blight. This is also a good reason to cut some of the leaves off, fewer leaves mean fewer opportunities for late blight.

What do you do with your tomatoes? Do you let them grow or do you prune them?


More about growing  and pruning tomato plants:

Companion planting corn and tomatoes
Tomatoes from sowing to harvest, part 1


Good luck with your tomatoes!
/Sara Bäckmo

28. July 2021