Monday, August 8, 2011

Tomato pruning debate

I've had several conversations about removing tomato suckers with people recently. Suckers for those who don't know are the shoots that grow between the tomato leaf branch and the main stem. If you choose to remove them, do so when they are young rather than letting a large shoot develop. The question is should you remove suckers or not?

There certainly are some pluses to this growing technique: easier to train on a support whether stake or cage, ability to plant more plants closer together and easier access to harvest fruit. See photo of tomato in a pot with slim form produced by having all suckers removed. The alternative is not pruning which usually is done by letting tomatoes run on the ground. With large, 3 to 4 feet wide, sturdy cages, not pruning is also often practiced.

One of the disadvantages of removing suckers is exposing fruit by having less leaf cover. This can increase the chances of sunscald (photo). Sucker removal carried to the extreme probably limits the photosynthetic capacity of the plant particularly with some less robust tomato varieties.

You also can use some of both techniques along the way. Removing suckers at first and then slacking off and letting them grow later produces more leaf cover to protect fruit from sunscald. What works for you?

Whether you are pruning or not, you should have fruit beginning to ripen. Nighttime temperatures are already beginning to drop into the fifties along the Front Range. The August transition to fall will also see more daytime temperatures in the eighties. For warm weather loving tomatoes, fruit development should be well along at this point in the growing season.

Photo credit: Tomato plant with suckers removed, Sunscald on green tomato fruit - both Carl Wilson


  1. Hi there. Is it too late to plant for Fall? I was so excited about my Summer Cool and Warm crops, yet forgot all about my fall crops.

  2. Crops like radish or leafy greens that can be harvested at any stage of maturity can be planted later. Check the frost date for your area and count back the number of days to harvest for your crop. Cool season crops may be tolerant of at least mild frosts and possibly grow longer depending on fall weather.