Do Tomato Suckers Produce Fruit? Separating Myths From Facts

Tomato suckers, which are vigorously growing stems that appear at the base of a tree or from the root system, have long been a topic of debate among gardeners.

Woman pointing at the stem of a tomato

Some argue that these suckers produce fruit, while others maintain that they only detract from the main plant's fruit production and overall health.

In this article, we'll look into the facts and myths surrounding tomato suckers and their fruit production.

Understanding Tomato Plant Structure

The basic structure of a tomato plant consists of the main stem, branches, leaves, flowers, and fruits.

The main stem grows vertically, and branches, also known as lateral stems, grow outwards.

Leaves grow from both the main stem and branches, and flowers emerge from the junction between the leaves and the stem.

The flowers eventually develop into tomato fruits.

A healthy tomato plant should have a strong main stem, adequate branch growth, and a balanced distribution of leaves, flowers, and fruits.

But aside from these parts, small shoots also grow between the main stem and the branches. These are called tomato suckers. Let's discuss them further below.

What is a Tomato Sucker?

Tomato suckers, also commonly referred to as side shoots, are small, new growths that emerge from the junction between the main stem and a branch (this junction is also called the leaf axil).

At first, suckers may look like harmless leafy growths, but they eventually develop into full-fledged branches with their own leaves, flowers, and fruits.

The debate about whether to prune or leave tomato suckers is a common one among gardeners.

Pruning these suckers can help redirect energy back to the main stem, improving overall fruit production on indeterminate tomato plants.

This is because removing extra growth reduces the shading of existing fruits, allowing them to mature more quickly, and it also allows for better airflow within the plant, reducing humidity and the risk of disease.

On the other hand, allowing these suckers to grow can increase the total number of branches and potentially yield more fruit, although they might be smaller and take longer to ripen.

Types of Tomato Plants and Effects of Pruning their Suckers

Tomato plants come in two main types: determinate and indeterminate.

Determinate tomato plants grow to a specific size, produce a set number of fruit, and then stop growing.

In this case, removing tomato suckers may not increase fruit production and can possibly reduce the overall yield.

On the other hand, indeterminate tomato plants keep growing and producing fruit throughout the entire growing season.

For these plants, pruning the tomato suckers can improve fruit production by redirecting energy from extra growth back to the developing fruits.

This process also allows for better airflow within the plant, reducing humidity and the chances of disease.

Do Tomato Suckers Produce Fruit? The Big Question

The short answer is yes! Once propagated and properly cared for, tomato suckers have the potential to develop into full-sized tomato plants capable of bearing fruit.

However, it is important to note that the success of this process largely depends on factors such as the growing conditions, the health of the parent plant, and the care given to the propagated plant.

How to Propagate New Plants from Tomato Suckers

One of the wonders of gardening is the ability to propagate new plants from cuttings or pruned sections of existing plants.

In the case of tomato plants, pruned suckers or side shoots can provide an excellent opportunity for propagation, and, with the right care, can yield new fruit-bearing plants.

Here are the steps to preparing tomato suckers and getting them ready for planting.

1. Pruning the Suckers

Begin by identifying the suckers or side shoots on your tomato plant. These typically grow at the intersection between the main stem and a branch.

Using clean, sharp pruning shears, carefully snip off the sucker, ensuring you don't damage the main plant.

Get this small hand pruner on Amazon.

2. Preparing the Cutting

Trim the sucker to a length of about 3-4 inches, removing any lower leaves, leaving only the topmost leaves intact. This prevents excessive moisture loss and encourages root growth.

3. Rooting in Water

Place the trimmed sucker in a glass of water, submerging the cut end, but ensuring that the remaining leaves stay above the waterline.

Leave the glass in a sunny spot, changing the water every few days. Within a week or two, you should observe small roots emerging from the cut end.

4. Planting the Rooted Sucker

Once the roots have developed, carefully transplant the sucker into a small pot filled with potting mix. Water the soil well and place the pot in a sunny location.

5. Caring for the New Plant

As with any young plant, water regularly and provide adequate sunlight.

Once the plant has grown strong enough, you can transplant it into a larger container or directly into your garden.

Dispelling the Myths Around Tomato Suckers

False Beliefs

Many people believe that tomato suckers are useless and should always be removed from the plant.

Some think they take away valuable energy and nutrients needed for fruit production, while others say they won't produce fruit, causing the plant to become unproductive.

These are common misconceptions, and in reality, tomato suckers can contribute to the overall production of the plant, as long as they are managed properly.

Scientific Explanations

Tomato suckers are simply side shoots that grow between the main stem and a side branch.

Contrary to the myths, letting these suckers grow can actually lead to more fruit production.

However, it's essential to strike a balance between maintaining the overall health of the plant and allowing additional fruit production.

A good rule of thumb is to let a few healthy suckers grow, which can improve yield without overburdening the plant.

Remember that it may be beneficial to prune some suckers, especially if they're causing overcrowding or blocking sunlight.

Check out this video below for some great pruning advice.

It's important to know that different tomato varieties may require different care.

In determinate tomatoes, the plant will grow to a certain size and stop, producing a single harvest.

Therefore, removing suckers is less important for these varieties. On the other hand, indeterminate tomatoes continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the season.

For these plants, it's best to manage suckers and prune strategically to maximize fruit production and maintain overall plant health.

Importance of Pruning Tomato Suckers

Pruning tomato suckers is a crucial step in maintaining healthy, robust tomato plants.

This process ensures a balance between vegetative growth and reproductive growth - which includes flowers and fruits.

When to Prune

You should start pruning suckers once your tomato plants are established and have a strong main stem.

It's important to be diligent in removing suckers throughout the growing season.

Keep an eye out for new growths and remove them when they are still small, or before the suckers reach 6 inches in length.

How to Prune

To prune your tomato suckers, use clean and disinfected pruning tools, such as scissors or pruners, to avoid the transfer of diseases between plants.

First, rinse the blades with warm soapy water and dry them thoroughly. Next, use a quick alcohol spray or a 10% bleach solution to disinfect your pruners.

Once your tools are ready, locate the suckers. Gently pinch or cut off the sucker as close to the main stem as possible, taking care not to damage the surrounding plant tissue.

Don't Throw Away Your Pruned Tomato Suckers!

Tomato suckers can indeed produce fruit. Although there are different opinions on whether or not to remove them, allowing some suckers to grow can increase your overall tomato yield.

Growing tomato suckers isn't always a bad thing. Many gardeners find success by selectively pruning suckers, while others may choose to let all of them grow.

Don't be afraid to experiment with your tomato plants. Whether you decide to remove suckers or allow them to grow, the most important thing is that you're enjoying the gardening process and learning from your experiences.

For more tomato growing tips, check out these other articles:

Don’t Let Blossom End Rot Ruin Your Tomato Crop: Tips and Tricks for a Healthy Harvest

Woman Grows Plentiful Tomato Bounty With This Garden Structure—See For Yourself!

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