I remember excitedly showing my friend my gardening skills. Here is my tomato plant… The tomatoes were small bushes with hardly any tomatoes on. I remember him saying did you “pinch out tomato plants”. “Did I do what?” was my response!
The taste of homegrown tomatoes cannot be beaten. Tomatoes do however need a little knowledge. To get tomatoes to grow at their best means you need to know all the tips and tricks to avoid disappointment and get the biggest harvest! Pinching out is one of these tasks that is essential for the tomato gardener. Keep reading to find out all you need to know about how and why you need to pinch out tomato plants.
Reader Poll: What online courses would interest you?
Do I Need To Pinch Out Tomato Plants?
Bush Varieties don’t need pinching out at all. These are earlier fruiting but smaller. They are ideal to grow in containers and normally have smaller size and crops of fruit. I’m going to repeat this again. Don’t pinch out bush Varieties you will end up with a smaller plant with very little fruit.
Check your seed packet or plant label to determine if you have a bush type plant. Often also called container or patio tomatoes.
Subscribe to our newsletter!
Otherwise known as vine tomatoes. These plants grow on a vine and are the type that needs pinching out. If your not sure what type of tomato plant you have please check your seed packet or plant label.
Varieties such as “gardeners delight” and “moneymaker” are cordon types.
What Happens If I Don’t Pinch Out Sideshoots?
So if you don’t pinch out the cordon Varieties of tomato the plant will put all its resources into trailing out new growth and it will climb and grow out. You won’t see anywhere near as many tomatoes and the size will be smaller. The aim of this is to concentrate growth in a single main step that can also be pinched out (more on this later) so the energy is put into producing fruit.
When To Pinch Out Tomato Plants
You can start pinching out tomato plants once they are at least 6 inches tall. Pinching out some of the extra stems encourages thicker and healthier stems on the plant that remains. Once the plant continues to grow, you can pinch out the extra stems again once the new growth extends 3 to 4 inches.
How To Pinch Out Sideshoots
Start looking for side shoots when the plant starts forming leaves.
The process of pinching out side shoots may need to happen a few times a week. I check every day during the height of the growing season.
How To Pinch Out Sideshoots
For indeterminate/cordon varieties you will need to routinely pinch out side shoots. Do do this follow the main stem up from the base of the plant. A side shoot grows out of the stem in a Y shape.
A side shoot starts to grow between this as pictured below.
These need to be removed. To do this simply pinch with your fingers and pull gently to remove them.
If you leave it for too long you will see a much larger Sideshoots. This also needs to be carefully removed with your fingers or garden scissors if tougher.
The number one takeaway you need to take care not to damage the plant. This will help prevent diseases.
How Often Do I Need To Pinch Out Tomato Plants?
Personally I do this every day. On some occasions, I have gone into my greenhouse to do this task after a few days off and I have been shocked at the growth and go on an instant pruning spree.
Pinching Out The Growing Tip
Like vines, the cordon Varieties will also carry on growing and growing. In order to get the plant’s energy to focus on producing tomatoes you need to pinch out the growing tip. In my greenhouse, I do this when the plant reaches the ceiling. And outside the height to around 4 ft.
Pinching Blooms Near Season End
Gardeners often pinch out new blooms and fruits near the end of the season. The reason is that the growing season is approaching its end and soon the frosty weather will kill off the plant. If the new blooms and tiny fruits appearing on the tomato plant won’t have enough time to grow to maturity, there’s no point in allowing them to grow. They take their share of the plant’s energy but will not add to the harvest. Pinching them out of the plant directs the plant’s energies towards the ripening fruits that are more likely to mature before the season ends.
Benefits Of Pinching Tomato Plants
Depending on how and when you prune the tomato plants, there are several benefits you can achieve with the practice. Here’s what it offers:
- Lower Risks Of Diseases
With fewer stems and fewer foliage, there’s increased airflow between the plants and between stems of the same plant. Tomato plants will dry out quickly after a rainfall, and there will be lower chances of humid conditions in the plant’s atmosphere. Increased airflow directly translates into decreased risk of diseases and fewer pest problems. Even if pests do attack your crop, they’ll be much easier to spot when there are fewer stems and foliage.
- Healthier Fruit
Although there will be fewer tomatoes on a pruned tomato plant, they will be bigger. With fewer stems and leaves, the plant has more energy to direct to the fruits and produce larger and juicier tomatoes.
- Early Ripening
Gardeners living in areas with short growing seasons can benefit from pinching tomato plants. When the plants have fewer foliage and fruits to worry about, they’ll focus more energy towards ripening and produce a harvest faster before the onset of cold temperatures.
Prune With Caution
While pruning tomato plants has its benefits, there are some considerations you want to keep in mind:
- Go Easy On Pruning In Hot Weather
If the weather is too hot, don’t over prune the foliage that’s shading the fruits. Intense sunlight can cause the tomatoes to develop sunscald.
- Determinant Varieties Don’t Need Much Pruning
Determinate varieties need little pruning. They produce a limited number of fruits that ripen around the same time. Pruning these varieties too intensely can reduce the yield. With determinant tomatoes, you can limit the pruning to pinching out the suckers that form below the first flower cluster. Avoid pruning the suckers that form higher up on the plant since doing so will reduce the yeild.