Should I Remove Side Shoots From Tomato Plants? Guide To A Successful Season

The tomato garden, with its verdant leaves and red fruit, is a source of pride and joy for many.

But lurking amongst those lush leaves are the controversial side shoots, igniting discussions and dividing opinions. Are they beneficial branches or futile foliage?

Removing bamboo side shoots

This guide aims to help you understand the benefits and drawbacks of pruning side shoots from your tomato plants.

Why Side Shoots Appear on Tomato Plants

Side shoots, also known as suckers, are a natural growth habit of tomato plants. They emerge from the joint where a leaf branch connects to the main stem.

Side shoots are the plant's way of trying to maximize its leaf surface area, which allows it to absorb more sunlight and produce more energy for growth and fruit production.

However, if you're growing your tomatoes in a limited space or looking to achieve an earlier harvest, you might want to consider removing some side shoots.

Removing it will keep your plants focused on producing fruits rather than leaves.

Pruning side shoots can help concentrate the plant's energy on fruiting, resulting in larger harvests and potentially faster growth.

Gardener trimming her tomato plant in the backyard

It's important to note that not all types of tomato plants require pruning.

Indeterminate tomato varieties, which continue to grow and produce fruit until the first frost, often benefit from side shoot removal.

Meanwhile, determinate tomato varieties typically have a more compact growth habit and may not need regular pruning.

To effectively manage side shoots, remove them when they're still small, preferably less than 2 inches.

This reduces stress on the plant and makes it easier for you to stay on top of this maintenance task.

As your tomato plants grow, be sure to secure them with clips or ties to maintain support and encourage vertical growth.

Remember, while pruning side shoots can have benefits, it's essential to be mindful of your specific tomato variety and growing conditions.

This will ensure you achieve a healthy and bountiful harvest throughout the season.

How Do You Identify Tomato Side Shoots?

Side shoots, also known as suckers, are small shoots that emerge from the area where a branch meets the main stem of your tomato plant.

They are easy to spot, as they grow at a slight angle between the main stem and a branch.

Removing tomato side shoots

These side shoots can be identified when they are just a few inches long, making it easier to decide whether to remove them or not early on in their growth.

To successfully locate side shoots, follow the main stem of your tomato plant from the base and look for points where branches grow out from the stem.

In those joint areas, side shoots will begin to emerge, and that's where you want to focus your attention.

Deciding Whether Or Not To Prune Side Shoots

Plant Type

When deciding whether or not to prune side shoots from your tomato plants, consider the type of tomato plant you have. There are two main types:

1. Determinate

Determinate tomato plants have a set pattern of growth and produce all their fruit at once.

With these plants, you generally don't need to prune side shoots, as this may reduce the overall yield.

2. Indeterminate

Indeterminate tomato plants, on the other hand, continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the entire season.

For these plants, you may want to prune side shoots to focus the plant's energy on the main stem and ensure optimal growth.

Shading and Air Circulation

Another factor to take into account when deciding if you should remove side shoots from your tomato plants is the overall shading and air circulation around your plants.

If your tomato plants are densely packed or if there's excessive foliage, removing some side shoots can help create better air circulation, reducing the risk of disease and promoting healthier plants.

Pointing at tomato side shoot and removing it

Furthermore, by removing side shoots in areas with heavy shading, you can increase the plant's exposure to sunlight, promoting healthier growth and better fruit production.

Risk of Disease

Lastly, pruning side shoots can help to minimize diseases that affect your tomato plants.

Many diseases, such as blight and various fungal infections, thrive in damp, poorly ventilated environments.

By removing side shoots, you can increase airflow around your plants, making it more difficult for diseases to take hold and spread.

Additionally, pruning away diseased foliage at the first sign of infection can help prevent the disease from spreading to the rest of the plant and neighboring plants.

Just be sure to sanitize your pruning tools between each cut to avoid accidentally spreading any diseases.

How to Remove Side Shoots

Follow these steps and you'll be on your way to a successful tomato season.

Appropriate Time

Start pruning side shoots when your tomato plants are well established, ideally in late June or early July.

This is the time when the first tomato flowers begin to open, making it easier to identify the side shoots.

Continue to prune every 10 to 14 days as needed, but stop pruning one to two weeks before your expected first harvest. This allows your plants to produce canopies that protect the fruits.

Taking Safety Measures

Before removing side shoots from your tomato plants, make sure you're using clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to prevent the spread of diseases.

Disinfect your tools with a solution of one part bleach to nine parts water before and after use.

Prune side shoots when they are smaller than two inches to minimize damage to the plant.

Remove side shoots by cutting as close to the main stem as possible without harming the plant.

As you prune, support your plants with clips or ties attached to twine, repositioning as necessary to ensure they're well-supported along the vine.

Can Tomato Suckers Be Replanted and Grown?

Yes, tomato suckers can indeed be replanted and grown. Tomato suckers are side shoots that emerge from the main stem of your tomato plants.

By pruning and removing these side shoots, you not only keep your tomato plants neat and tidy, but you also give them a chance to become new plants themselves.

To replant and grow tomato suckers, follow these simple steps:

Choose Healthy Suckers

When you are pruning your tomato plants, look for healthy and strong suckers to replant.

They should be about 4-6 inches long and have a good structure.

Remove the Sucker From the Plant

Use your fingers or a pair of sterilized pruning shears to gently pinch or cut the sucker off as close to the main stem as possible.

Prepare the Cutting

Remove any leaves on the bottom half of the sucker and leave only a few leaves on the top half. This will help the cutting to focus its energy on growing roots.

Root the Cutting

Place the bottom end of the sucker in a glass of water or directly into moist potting soil.

If you're rooting the cuttings in water, place the glass in a location with bright, indirect light.

When rooting in soil, make sure the soil is kept consistently moist. In either case, roots should begin to develop in about 7-10 days.

Transplant Rooted Cuttings

Once the tomato sucker has developed a healthy root system, you can transplant it into a larger pot or directly into your garden.

By rooting and replanting tomato suckers, you can create mid-season replacement plants when many other tomato transplant options may no longer be available.

This allows you to extend your tomato growing season and get the most out of your plants.

So don't hesitate to give your tomato suckers a second chance at life, as they can turn into productive new plants for your garden.

Prune Side Shoots for More Harvest!

Pruning side shoots from your tomato plants can significantly improve their growth and overall health.

By taking the time to eliminate these small suckers when they are under two inches, you can encourage your plant to focus on the development of its main stem and fruit production.

For more tomato planting tips and hacks, check these out:

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

Watch This Simple Gardening Hack That Will Save Your Tomatoes From Pests

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