Introduction: Pruning Tomatoes for Maximum Yield

Picture of Pruning Tomatoes for Maximum Yield


In this tutorial I will show you a great way to prune your tomato plants for healthy, prolific harvest.

First I will explain why we prune our tomatoes and the best conditions to do so. I will then show you what to look for and where to prune your plant.

Although the steps are laid out accordingly, It's always wise to read through the entire tutorial before you start hacking away at your beautiful plants.

Note: I use the words suckers, branches and stems interchangeably. Even though I mean pretty much the same thing with all of them, a sucker is a small "new" stem.

Step 1: Gather Tools

Picture of Gather Tools

As you can see, not too much involved other than a bit of knowledge and a:

  • Knife or Pruning Scissors
  • Bucket

I like to use a knife instead of scissors. I find it easier to get into tight spots and "saw" the sucker rather then trying to clip them with a scissors. If you are afraid of the open blade around your fingers, the scissors will work fine.

Step 2: Trimming

Picture of Trimming

My grandma never trimmed her tomato plants, why should I?

Here are a few good reasons:

  • Low branches stay wet and are great vectors for plant fungus and diseases
  • Reduce wasted water and nutrients on unproductive branches
  • Provide maximum nutrients to tomatoes
  • Easier to find ripe tomatoes



First of all, the goal is to trim all the lower branches to allow good airflow under the plants and help push water and nutrients to the tomatoes.

We will also pinch off all new flowers and tomatoes starting 30-40 days before first frost in your area (emphasis on the top of the plant). This helps the plant use the remaining days to ripen the tomatoes on the plant instead of budding new tomatoes that won't have time to ripen.

The best time to prune is on a dry, warm day. This gives the tomato a good chance of sealing its cut would without any infection.

  • Find your "main" stem(s). There should be between 1-3 of them. Never cut these.
  • Find your first tomato or bud.
  • Cut all larger stems up to your first tomato.
  • Find small "new" suckers - Cut these (Will be easier to see and less work if you cut large stems first)
  • Throw cuttings in your bucket

Note: It is worth taking time to prune your plants on a regular basis. This way the suckers won't grow as large- meaning less energy wasted.

You can trim more than just the lower branches, just make sure to leave enough foliage to shade your tomatoes to prevent sun scald.

Step 3: Compost

Picture of Compost

Throw your trimming in the compost pile and watch those tomatoes explode!


offseid (author)2016-09-30

Very helpful, thank you!

SherylinRM (author)2016-08-13

Never knew how to do this and now I do

Thanks a lot for this :)

nanaverm (author)2016-08-07

Which stem is the sucker?

Oddstr13 made it! (author)nanaverm2016-08-08

Doesn't really matter too much. It's the stem you don't want to keep. This is usually the smaller ones, growing from the corner between the main top shoot and the leaves. Side shoots with no flowers or tomatoes (yet).

nanaverm (author)Oddstr132016-08-09

Thanks, to you and liderbug below.

zeppelingirl (author)2016-08-07

I actually bought a 'Sweet 1000' seedling at Walmart about 8 years ago and I get around 1000 and sometimes more cherry tomatoes off of it each year without pruning or touching the plant. Then I take some of the ripened tomatoes that fall onto the ground and put them under a couple inches of dirt wherever I want my next tomato plant. When spring comes I keep the biggest seedling that comes up and give all the other ones to my friends and neighbors. I've I haven't bought a tomato plant since the original.

discostu956 (author)zeppelingirl2016-08-08

I love those free tomato plants you get from the fallen tomatoes! Always heaps too

zeppelingirl (author)discostu9562016-08-08


discostu956 (author)2016-08-03

Thanks for the info, you've helps explain the why a bit better.

Me being me, I hate the thought of wasting the branches I cut off. I always plant them and get a few new plants going......I need to limit the amount of plants I get going!

Nokota (author)discostu9562016-08-04

Tomatoes can grow from cuttings without any special treatment!?

PugetSounder (author)Nokota2016-08-08

I just root tomato stems in water. When the root system is fully developed, I plant it in a pot (I grow all 2 dozen of my tomatoes in containers). Usually this works best on small stems, but I recently had success with a larger one. I had accidentally broken the main top part off of one of my 4' tomato plants that was flowering. After growing a good root system in water, it's now flourishing in its own pot. (I did remove the flowers while in water so it would concentrate on growing roots.)

discostu956 (author)Nokota2016-08-04

Yes, surprisingly easy. Just put the cutting into a put our soil you keep really most for a week or so (when it starts looking healthier). By then it's started developing roots and you can reduce the water. I reckon it's pretty cool

Nokota (author)discostu9562016-08-04

Hmmm.... regular garden soil, sand, or seed starting mix? Could I use any of the three? Some recommend sand for cuttings but those plants are decorative and seed starting mix is made for the promotion of root growth... What would you recommend? I am seriously going to try this just to see. How long should the branch be?

discostu956 (author)Nokota2016-08-04

I've always just used whatever. I think tomatoes are one of the easiest plants to do this with. I've done it plenty just poking a hole into the garden bed shoving it into there, compacting soil well sound it so it doesn't dry out. Keep water up to it.

The longer the branch the more babying it seems to need, but I've done it with branches over a metre long. Just seems to take a bit a bit longer and needs more water.

EvanG25 (author)discostu9562016-08-07

You could try the same trick as when planting the initial plant in spring.

a small trench 5-7 cm deep (2-3 inches), and lay the roots and up to 30 cm/12-in of the stem in it. Cover with soil and water it.

buried part of the stem sprouts new roots and IME improves
yield. In the spring, the plant will develop faster for being near the
surface (in soil warmer than 6C/42F, or whatever that magic temp for
beginning to grow is).

A-J (author)discostu9562016-08-07

Another great idea. ... thank you :-)

Orngrimm (author)discostu9562016-08-03

think of it in another way: the compost made off these branches will help the tomatoplants in the next year. so it is more of an offsetting than an immediate reuse. ;)

jvandeyacht (author)Orngrimm2016-08-07

I never compost tomato vines. I did that 15 years or so ago and got blight into my compost bin. Had to completely start a new bin to use in tomato garden. I will mulch the tomato vines in my yard and use it to help the grass.

ac-dc (author)jvandeyacht2016-08-07

Completely bury the plant waste, till it under. Blight grows on surface exposed foliage. Just be sure to do it at end of season so there are several months for it to decompose, not just before a new grow season in that soil.

russ_hensel (author)Orngrimm2016-08-03

But if there is any disease on the toms do not compost or at least do not use the compost on any plants in the tom family.

BobbyArndt (author)russ_hensel2016-08-03

Correct! If possible, you should also rotate where you plant your tomatoes each year.

Oddstr13 made it! (author)2016-08-08

Stems of the tomato plant easily root, so you can use the suckers as cuttings, and make new plants.

Cut away all but a few leaves on the top (3-5 or there around) and plant them in damp soil. Most of them should root within a few weeks. New plant growth is a strong indication that the cuttings have rooted.

Here I have taken some suckers from the greenhouse and put them in the soil outdoors. No protection against the elements, so they are getting full sunlight and wind. Mostly as an experiment to see if it could be done. At 62.7 degrees north, 600m above sea level, you would usually grow tomatoes in a greenhouse.

Would probably be better to root them indoors in pots under growth lighting.

I intend to attempt over-wintering some of my tomato plants, or cuttings there of, indoors.

liderbug (author)2016-08-08

Found this several years ago - click on the base of each stem - and other places.

canewkirk (author)2016-08-07

Great article, thanks for submitting. One suggestion. Early in the article you make the statement that 30 to 40 days before the first frost, trim off all buds so the plants can use their full energy to finish the established fruits. This is true with one exception. There are those of us that love to make Green Tomato Chow-Chow. With the green tomatoes off just 3 or 4 plants, picked just before the first frost, you can make and can enough chow-chow to last you all through the winter. For those not familiar with Green Tomato Chow-Chow, it's just like sweet or dill pickle relish, depending on the recipe. It's just like the stuff some of us put on hot-dogs and other sandwiches. Enjoy.

Thom047 (author)canewkirk2016-08-07

or make fried green tomatoes . . .

Google it . . .


David R (author)Thom0472016-08-07

In the south many choose the larger sauce varieties, Heinz being one. Sauce tomatoes have more flesh less water and they fry better for fried green tomatoes

autumsawesome (author)2016-08-07

What I do is break off the branches in the "crook" of two other branches. But be careful when watering so that no water gets on the leaves, if you do a weird fungus will grow on the leaves.

Nice Instructable.

DorlisG (author)2016-08-07

I can't stand to see anything go to waste, why not root those cuttings for more plants. I always have to plant more than I need because of the rodent family, squirrels, groundhogs, etc. I even have to keep my garage closed because they eat on the plastic parts in the engine compartment, they are made from soybean oil and they like it.

ThomasK19 (author)2016-08-04

FWIW: The German wording for this process is "greed-ing" (substantive of being greedy). Save the growth-power to what needs to grow. Get rid of the "useless" branches and re-use them for what needs to grow.

BobbyArndt (author)ThomasK192016-08-04

Hehe, those darn greedy tomatoes.

cfremming (author)2016-08-04

Thanks for this! I was looking at my tomato plants yesterday thinking I probably needed to do some trimming. This was helpful.

Modern Rustic Workshop (author)2016-08-03

This is such great knowledge to have. I will make sure to use this in our garden next year.

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