Top Two Ways to Prune Tomatoes
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When it comes down to it, there are basically only two ways to prune tomatoes.
- The first way is not to prune at all, and to throw a big cage around the entire plant to keep it somewhat contained.
- The second way is to prune away certain parts of the plant and trellis the vine to keep it growing vertically.
Either way, you’ll get tomatoes. The method you choose depends on your goals, your space, and the types of tomatoes you grow.
Let’s take a look at the top two ways to prune tomatoes…
Top Two Ways to Prune Tomatoes
1. Little to no pruning + cage
Best for: determinate tomatoes.
Five things to know about determinate tomatoes:
- also known as bush tomatoes because the plant grows wide and bushy
- reach a certain height (anywhere from 2-5 feet) and stop growing
- produce all the fruit at once and then the plant dies back
- do not require pruning
- good for beginners, container gardens, and short growing seasons
I haven’t grown determinate tomatoes in years. Back when I first started learning to grow vegetables, determinate tomatoes were the perfect choice. I rarely pruned them, and all they needed for support was one good sized cage per plant.
Tips for choosing a tomato cage
You know those cone-shaped “tomato” cages sold at all plant nurseries? Just say no! Those teeny cages will not support your big, bushy tomato plant.
Instead, I recommend making your own large, sturdy tomato cage from a roll of wire fencing. Or you might get lucky, like I did, and off load a supply of vintage tomato cages from an aging gardener friend.
The four main features you want in a tomato cage are:
- height: should match your plant (read the tag or research online to find out how tall your plant will get)
- openings: at LEAST 4″ x 4″ and bigger is even better
- diameter: I recommend 2′-3′
- gauge: just make sure it looks and feels sturdy
This method is super simple! Just place the cage around the tomato plant when it is still young and small. As the plant grows, guide the branches so that they remain contained within the cage.
That’s it! Watch your plant grow, help it stay inside its cage, and harvest tomatoes when ripe.
2. Prune + trellis
Best for: indeterminate tomatoes
Four things to know about indeterminate tomatoes:
- also known as vining tomatoes because the plant grows tall and will sprawl when unsupported
- can reach up to 20 feet in height
- produce a continuous supply of fruit until frost kills the plant
- benefit from pruning and trellising
These days I grow all indeterminate heirloom tomatoes. Typically, most heirloom tomatoes are indeterminate. Indeterminate tomatoes do require more time and effort for pruning and trellising, but I love the continuous harvest, the amazing varieties, and the ability to grow more tomatoes in less space.
Removing the lower branches, extra branches, and suckers provides better air flow for my tomato plants. This reduces the likelihood of disease, and it allows me to space my plants closer together.
I tend to prune and tie every few weeks throughout the growing season. Sometimes I combine this task with harvesting and sometimes I prune separately. Do whatever works best for you!
Tips for planting indeterminate tomatoes
Also see: Are You Planting Tomatoes the Right Way?
- space tomato plants 18″-24″ apart
- any trellising that would disturb the roots of your plants should be erected prior to planting
- choose your trellis: I use large cattle panels secured with zip ties to strong, metal T-posts
Some folks like to read instructions while some prefer to watch a demonstration. And some people like to do both! Either way, I ‘ve got you covered.
Here’s a little tutorial I filmed for you…Can’t see the video? Click here to watch.
- Lower branches: I raise my cattle panels to start about 18″ from the ground and I also remove all the branches from the lower 18″ of my plants.
- Single stem: Remove all “extra” branches so that only one main stem remains.
- Suckers: Remove all suckers, which are the straight shoots that grow out of the crook where each horizontal or downward branch meets the main stem.
- Tie: When the plant reaches the bottom of the cattle panel, begin tying the main stem loosely to the panel.
- Repeat: As the plant grows, continue pruning, removing extra branches and suckers, and tying the main stem loosely to the panel to keep it growing vertically.
And there you have it! Whether you prune or not, you’ll still get tomatoes. The method you choose largely depends on the type of tomatoes you grow, along with your space and your tomato-growing goals.
Do you prefer determinate or indeterminate tomatoes? Which seems best to you: cages or trellises?
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