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How do you prune a tomato plant?

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Senior woman pruning tomato plants. Betsie Van Der Meer/Taxi/Getty Images
Question: How do you prune a tomato plant?
Pruning tomato plants is really a very simple thing to do. But there are cases in which you don't want to prune your tomato plant. And, for those who don't want to bother pruning your tomatoes, guess what---you don't really have to!
Answer: The main reason to prune tomato plants is that it helps your plant direct its energy toward producing fruit rather than producing more foliage. The excess foliage will eventually grow into new branches that will form fruit, but most experienced growers advise that tomatoes should be pruned to not only produce larger fruit earlier in the season, but also to protect the plants against pest and disease problems.

When a tomato plant is pruned properly, all of the foliage receives adequate sunlight, and the plant is able to photosynthesize (and, as a result, grow and produce fruit) more efficiently.

But not all types of tomatoes need to be pruned. If you are growing determinate tomatoes, you don't want to prune. The reason for this is that determinate plants develop all of their fruit at one time, so if you prune, you're sacrificing tomatoes for no reason. But if you're growing indeterminate tomatoes, which produce fruit regularly over the course of a season, pruning is essential. Not only will it help keep these often-huge vines in control, but energy will go to producing several really nice-sized tomatoes instead of a bunch of smaller tomatoes (along with lots of foliage!)

Of course, tomato pruning isn't a required chore, no matter which type of tomato you're growing. If you're not overly worried about growing large fruit, or trying to keep the plants under control, you don't need to worry about pruning.

How to Prune Tomatoes

If you decide to prune, it's really a very simple process. What you are looking for are tomato "suckers," which grow in the "V" space between the main stem and the branches on your tomato plant. The first photo in this article shows what you'd be looking for. If left to grow, this would eventually grow into a full-sized branch--adding lots of foliage and, eventually, a few fruits. It will also result in a tomato plant that quickly outgrows its space in the garden.

So, to prune, you simply remove these "suckers." This can be done when they are smaller than two inches tall by simply pinching them off with your fingers. If they are larger than two inches, be sure to use a pair of clean pruners that you disinfect as you move from plant to plant to protect against spreading diseases. These should be pruned out when they are small to avoid stressing the plant by removing large amounts of foliage at once.

It really is that simple. It's a chore that can be done while watering or weeding, and one that will result in healthier plants and bigger fruits with very little effort.

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