5 Important Reasons to Prune Your Tomato Plant Suckers

tomato harvest and how to prune tomato suckers

The gift of harvesting a juicy, ripe tomato straight from the garden is one of the reasons why many people have a garden in the first place. For many gardeners, the homegrown tomato is the perfect illustration of how the taste of the food we grow ourselves far surpasses anything we could buy at the grocery store.

The tomato is the symbol of what a summer garden harvest means to many of us.

And tomatoes are known for being one of the easiest vegetables to grow – plop them into the ground, slap a DIY trellis on them, and then come back a few months later and start harvesting bowls full of glorious ripe fruit.

In most climates, tomato plants will produce lots of tasty fruit without a lot of assistance from the gardener. While it’s true that there’s nothing you have to do to your tomato plants except water them and keep them off the ground, what if I told you there was something more you could do to increase your harvest, reduce diseases, and overall have a much better tomato harvest?

This magic task is a simple one – it’s called pruning.

I first learned about pruning my tomatoes when I worked on a CSA farm. The farm planted thousands of tomatoes, and for a few days each summer the whole staff would line up and down the rows busily pruning the tomato plants.

Seeing the results of removing the tomato plant suckers at the farm convinced me to try it on my own plants at home. And, since that fateful day, I’ve pruned my tomatoes every year.

If you’re not a practicing pruner yourself, I’m hoping to convince you to put this task on your garden to-do list this season.

tomato harvest and how to remove tomato plant suckers

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5 Reasons to Remove Your Tomato Plant Suckers

#1: Harvest tomatoes sooner.

Right after planting our tomatoes we want them to put as much energy as possible into growing bigger and better as plants. A healthy sized tomato plant will yield more fruit than a stunted one.

But, there comes a time when the scale tips and as the tomato plant grows it keeps producing more and more of its greenery – suckers, stems, and leaves.

A tomato plant sucker can be found between the main stem and each of the leaves. See photo below. Each new sucker is basically a whole new tomato plant attached to the stem.

That means the plant needs to pump a lot of energy into these new parts to help them grow, which takes energy away from fruit production.

When you keep the new growth to a minimum, you encourage the plant to focus on what you really want it to do – produce delicious fruit. Pruning can often lead to earlier harvests of your favorite garden vegetable (actually, it’s a fruit!).

parts of the tomato plant for removing suckers

#2: Plant more tomatoes in the same amount of space.

Pruning reduces the overall size of your tomato plant pretty drastically. It’s less like a tall blob and more like a sleek version of its un-pruned alter ego. This smaller footprint, where each plant takes up less space, allows you to plant more tomatoes overall.

Some gardening articles suggest up to 3 feet of spacing between each plant. I don’t have enough garden space to be that generous.

Instead, for many years I’ve been planting my tomatoes 18 inches apart in double rows. This means I can fit a lot of tomato plants in one garden bed.

This saves me space for planting vegetables I love even more than tomatoes (hard to believe, I know!).

how to remove tomato plant suckers

My plants spaced 18″ apart. Sometimes I plant them in double rows.

#3: Cut down on disease.

There are many fungal diseases poised to take down your tomato plants each season. Many of them thrive in wet and cool environments. Think about the center of an overgrown tomato plant – where in your garden is more wet and cool than that?

Removing tomato plant suckers through pruning thins out the plant and allows more air circulation. This can help cut down on disease by allowing the plant to dry out more quickly after rainstorms and watering.

colorful tomato harvest

#4: Easier harvesting by avoiding the tomato jungle.

We’ve all had a tomato plant that gets out of control and turns into a looming tomato jungle. You know there are tomatoes in there somewhere, but you can’t quite see them.

So you try to peel back the outer layer of the jungle to get a peek inside. There’s one! If only you could reach it…

With an expertly pruned tomato plant, there’s no guessing whether or not there are ripe tomatoes. You can walk right up to the plant and grab the sunny yellow slicers just hanging there waiting to be taken in for dinner.

pruning tomato plant suckers

#5: Grow tastier tomatoes.

Speaking of that tomato jungle, what’s one thing tomatoes love? Sun! Sunlight encourages the fruit to develop sugars and ripen. Tomato jungle = no sunlight getting to the fruit.

If you live in a colder climate with a short season, pruning your tomato plants can help encourage the fruit to ripen more quickly by allowing more sunlight into the plant.

If you live in a hot climate with harsher sun, make sure you don’t over prune your plants, tomatoes like a little shade so they don’t get sunburn.

Okay, you have to admit, I’ve presented a persuasive argument for removing your tomato plant suckers. Have I convinced you? If not, read this blog post again (just kidding!).

How about doing an experiment instead? Prune out the tomato plant suckers on a couple of your plants and compare them to the others. If you like what you see, then you can prune more of them next season.

Head on over to my post that walks you through how to prune your tomato plants. There’s even a bonus video I filmed in my front yard garden!




More posts about tomatoes:

How to Choose Which Tomatoes to Grow

How to Build the Best Tomato Trellis

Easiest Ways to Preserve Tomatoes




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