Pruning Tomatoes for Maximum Yield




Introduction: 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

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

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

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

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29 Discussions

Make sure your tomatoes are indeterminate (vine tomatoes) before you prune. If you prune determinate (bush) tomatoes you are going to have a sad time. :)

Very helpful, thank you!

Never knew how to do this and now I do

Thanks a lot for this :)

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.

2 replies

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

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!

12 replies

Tomatoes can grow from cuttings without any special treatment!?

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.)

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

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?

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.

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).

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

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. ;)

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.

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.

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.

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

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