If you’re wondering whether a tomato sucker is a terrible, tomato-flavored piece of candy, you’ve come to the right place. Before we get into whether or not you should prune suckers, let’s learn to identify them first.
What Are Tomato Suckers?
Tomato suckers are small shoots or leaflets that sprout in the… we’ll say “crook” between between a stem and a leaf branch of your tomato plant (see the picture below). Suckers can make that section of your plant look a little “three is a crowd.”
Suckers start out tiny, but if allowed to grow, they’re capable of becoming another stem on your plant, complete with branches, flowers, fruit, and yes, more suckers of their own.
The law of tomato pruning for generations has been to prune the suckers before they can draw the plant’s energy away from the main stems, but the reality is a bit more nuanced than that.
Three Things to Consider Before Pruning Tomato Suckers
Consideration #1: Is your plant determinate or indeterminate?
The first consideration involves some tomato plant identification. Is your plant determinate or indeterminate?
Determinate, or bush, varieties are not continuous growers. A determinate tomato plant will mature, produce a flush of fruit all at once, and be ready for retirement.
Indeterminate, or vining, varieties are capable of continuous growth. They will spread along the ground or up a trellis for as long as the season permits, producing a steady supply of fruit.
If you have a determinate plant, the fruit grows along the branches, so your plant will typically not need to be pruned, except for some initial branch removal (we’ll get to that in a bit).
If, on the other hand, you have an indeterminate tomato, your plant will produce clusters of fruit along the stems and will require regular pruning to produce the kind of stems you want.
Consideration #2: How large is your garden?
If you’re growing in a small space, it will be essential to prune suckers from your indeterminate tomato plants in order to keep the plant in check. Allowing the suckers to grow into entirely new branches could quickly make things a little cramped for your other plants.
If you have plenty of growing space, including a large trellis for your tomato vine to climb, then you do not need to prune suckers.
Consideration #3: Do you want larger fruits or larger harvests?
Ask yourself: Do I want big tomatoes, or do I want lots of tomatoes?
If you like your tomatoes as big and beefy as possible, then you’ll want to pinch off the suckers to encourage your plant to channel all of its energy into producing larger fruit on its main stems. The downside to getting big fruit is that you’ll end up with fewer of them.
If you want to be able to harvest tons and tons of fruits, then you’re going to leave the suckers to grow into new vines. More vines means more tomatoes, and lots of them.
The catch of the higher yield is that these fruits will be smaller (but no less delicious).
Leaving the suckers means you’ll be able to drape your gorgeous trellis in vines laden with scarlet clusters of fruit.
Less fruit, big fruit
More fruit, small fruit
How to Prune All Tomato Plants for Success
Whether you want a few prize-winning tomatoes or lots of small fruits, there is some necessary pruning when you first plant a tomato plant to shape it up for success in your garden.
First, at planting time, remove a few of the lower branches (see picture below) and plant your tomatoes very deep. They’ll grow roots along the buried stem, which will help them support all that heavy fruit later.
Remove any leaves or branches that are touching the ground to prevent soil-borne diseases. Once the plant produces its first set of flowers, remove all branches below.
Whether you choose the size or the sums, performing these two simple acts of pruning will help your tomatoes live up to their full potential.
And, friends, if you don’t have any gardens to prune… lettuce work on that for you.
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