How To Prune Tomato Plants

How To Prune Tomato Plants: Remove Shoots From Tomato

Pruning tomato plants is a controversial topic among gardeners. We reveal when it makes sense to exhaust your tomatoes and how to do it correctly. There is seldom a topic that divides tomato lovers as much as the pruning of the side shoots. Some advocate consistent skimming, always and with every plant, others just let their tomatoes grow wild. In this article, we want to explain to you that skipping is not just a question of faith, but has real advantages and disadvantages. We explain how the stinging instincts arise and explain step by step the correct procedure for skimming.

Do you have to max out tomatoes?

Whether or not you have to skim tomatoes depends on the variety, the location, and the space available. We will therefore show you in detail which plants should be discouraged and why.

Do you have to exhaust all tomatoes?

The simple answer is no. Basically, only tomatoes should be skimmed if it makes sense. The side shoots should be removed from all large-fruited tomato varieties such as oxheart and beefsteak tomatoes. Even with medium-sized stick tomatoes, a maximum of two to three shots, including the main shoot, are left standing.

Which tomatoes shouldn’t be skimmed?

Low-growing bush tomatoes and wild tomatoes are not stripped at all. They bear flowers on all side shoots and thus fruit again. The yield is highest without pruning. You can either let the small-fruited cocktail and cherry tomatoes grow sprawling or pull them with several shoots. It is therefore optional for these tomatoes to be dried out.

How do the many side shoots arise?

Wild tomatoes from South America grow and grow naturally from all leaf axils because they lie on the ground and over time form a multi-branched shrub. Our cultivated tomato ( Solanum Lycopersicum ) was selected from the ranks of these diverse wild tomatoes (Solanum sp.), But still has strong similarities with their wild relatives. In addition, tomatoes that have been planted in corners that are too dark or that have been fertilized with too much nitrogen tend to develop side shoots and less to bloom.

The planting location should therefore be as flooded with light as possible to get more fruits instead of side shoots. You can prevent excessive nitrogen use with balanced, mainly organic fertilizers with long-term effects. The even and long-term release of nutrients does not lead to a deficiency or excess but rather supplies the tomato plant in a balanced and soil-friendly manner.

Advantages of skimming tomatoes

Skimmed tomatoes have several advantages. First of all, beefsteak tomatoes are prevented from planting large, heavy fruits on the side shoots that they cannot bear, so that they tear off or bend over. The quality of the fruits is then usually better, they taste more aromatic because the plant has to supply fewer fruits. In addition, the plant is encouraged to concentrate more on fruit formation and stem growth straight upwards. The plants become longer, but remain narrow and require less space. Another advantage is that the plants with fewer side shoots or without them are airier and dry off better after the rain. This makes it harder for fungal diseases to spread.

Tip: You can make fortifying tomato manure from the stripped side shoots, which the plants are then watered with. The production and fertilization take place as with nettle manure in a ratio of 1:20.

All advantages again at a glance:

  • Prevents the thinner side shoots from kinking and tearing off large tomatoes
  • The quality of the fruit is usually better
  • Plants are stimulated to grow in length and to produce fruit on the other shoots
  • Less space required in the width and better ventilation of the plants
  • Broken shoots can be fermented into plant-strengthening tomato manure
Pruning Tomatoes: How To Properly Remove Tomato Plant Shoots
Beefsteak tomatoes often become so heavy that only the main shoot can carry them

Disadvantages of skimming tomatoes

But of course, there are not only advantages, otherwise, but the topic also would not be so controversial. First of all, it should only be maxed out if it makes sense – and it is not always. Stripped plants tend to grow longer, they become very tall and are not very stable. A light gust of wind can knock it over or kink it. Therefore, exhausted tomatoes must always be well supported or tied up.

A major disadvantage is that pruning leaves the plant with wounds, which are the entry points for pathogens. This means stress for the tomato plants because they have to close the wounds quickly and fight any pathogens. In addition, the regular pruning takes a lot of time and has to be repeated about every two weeks, depending on the vigor of the varieties. For beginners among tomato growers, it is not that easy at first to distinguish between the shoot tip and side shoots. There is a risk here that the fruit-bearing tip will be removed and the plant will have to switch to the more unstable side shoot.

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The disadvantages of removing tomatoes at a glance:

  • Not useful with every type of tomato
  • Ties and supports are essential as the plants are unstable
  • Pricking leaves wounds and makes it easier for pathogens to penetrate
  • Pickling is time-consuming and has to be repeated every two to three weeks
  • It is difficult for beginners to distinguish between the main shoot and the side shoot
Pruning Tomatoes: How To Properly Remove Tomato Plant Shoots
Excess side shoots can be carefully removed by hand

Instructions for pruning tomatoes

The best time to start pruning depends on the planting date. Ideally, you start with skimming immediately after planting, i.e. in early May in the greenhouse or mid-May outdoors, and end in autumn.

It is best to skim your tomatoes in the morning because the wounds dry quickly during the day. Wear gloves, after all, tomato shoots will leave sticky green stains on your hands.

How do you distinguish stingy instincts from main instincts? The stinging shoots of tomatoes always arise in the leaf axils of leaves that are already large. They grow away from the main shoot at a 45-degree angle and are still thin and elastic. If you check all the leaf axils of the tomato plant from top to bottom, you won’t miss any of them in a hurry.

These side shoots are removed and either pinched deep down on the handle with the fingernails between the thumb and forefinger or, better still, cut off with a sharp knife or clean secateurs. Make sure that the cut is smooth and that the main shoot is not damaged. Small shoots can also be broken out because they can still be easily detached from the leaf axil in which they are located.

Tip: When watering, make sure that the wounds do not get wet in the first few days after the skimming, otherwise the risk of infection increases.

Summary tomato skimming:

  • Skimming in the morning allows the wounds to dry well during the day
  • Use gloves to avoid green spots
  • Check all leaf axils from top to bottom
  • Break out or pinch off small side shoots with your fingers, cut off larger ones better
  • Keep the wound areas dry when watering
  • Repeat about every two weeks, depending on growth

Correctly seared different tomatoes

Skimmed cocktail tomatoes

Cocktail tomatoes form small fruits and therefore only need to be skimmed to a limited extent. Because the side shoots usually form flowers and fruits quickly, which can also be borne well by the thinner side shoots. However, to avoid an obscure and poorly ventilated plant, it is worth removing a few shoots. With the cocktail tomato, if there is enough space, two to three lower side shoots are left next to the main shoot. So it is brought up with multiple instincts. These shoots develop flowers and fruits, all higher-lying stinging shoots along the main shoot are removed.

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Skimmed bush tomatoes

Under no circumstances should bush tomatoes be exhausted! The practical bush tomatoes usually only reach a maximum height of one meter. They branch out strongly and bear fruit on the side shoots. When you pinch out the side shoots, you are taking out much of the fruit that this plant would have borne.

Pruning Tomatoes: How To Properly Remove Shoots From Tomato Plants
Bush tomatoes should by no means be skimmed

Skimmed tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes

When it comes to medium-sized stick tomatoes and beefsteak tomatoes weighing up to a kilogram, there are very different opinions about preening. Stake tomatoes can usually be grown with one or two low-lying side shoots without any problems; all side shoots above are consistently removed. The lower shoots give the plant stability, where they also bear fruit. In the case of beef tomatoes, on the other hand, you can at most leave one side shoot next to the main shoot and connect both well. Alternatively, you consistently remove all stingy shoots and only let the main shoot grow upwards. Otherwise, the heavy fruits overwhelm many thin side shoots and kink easily.

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