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How To Prune Tomato Plants – The Secret To Productive Tomato Plants!

This week’s podcast and corresponding article are about how and why to prune your tomato plants. Believe it or not – pruning is one of the best things you can do for your tomatoes to ensure healthy plants and a bigger and better harvest.

Tomato plants are one of the most beloved vegetable plants of all. But they are also one of the more needy garden plants when it comes to requiring nutrients, water and care. Watering, fertilizing and mulching are certainly important – but so is pruning.

And as you will see below, it’s not difficult at all to do – but it can really help your plants to grow and produce!

You can listen in below to our complete podcast on how and why to prune tomatoes – or read on for our full-length article on the subject. As always, we have included all of the podcast resource links at the end of this article.

Why To Prune Tomato Plants

Let’s first cover why pruning is so important. Tomato plants need air, light and nutrients to produce blooms and eventually ripen their fruit.

Unfortunately, when they are left to grow on their own, they produce a tremendous amount of stems, shoots, branches and foliage. And all of that growth not only takes a lot of energy to produce, but it also blocks light and air. Even more, it can keep water from reaching the roots as well.

Pruning helps to conserve resources. By eliminating excessive growth, the plant can concentrate its energy on producing more flowers and fruit. Pruning also helps to allow for more light and air to reach the plant, and that has big benefits as well.

Too much leaf canopy near the ground can make it easy for blight to take hold. The leaves touch the soil, and spores can hop on to infect the plant.

All of those leaves also hold in moisture and make it easy for mildew to take hold as well. And finally, it allows for pests to easily climb up and dine on your plants too – not to mention it gives them plenty of cover for hiding!

how to prune tomatoes
Pruning your tomato plants is one of the best ways to ensure your plants produce bigger and more robust tomatoes.

How To Prune Tomato Plants

Where To Prune

Pruning can be broken down into 3 distinct areas, the bottom area of plants, the mid-section, and the top. Here is a look at how to best prune each:

Bottom Pruning

Pruning the bottom of your plants is the most important of the three areas. It allows for circulation at the bottom of your plants, and can help keep blight and mildew at bay too. It also makes it much easier for you to water and fertilize the plants with easy access to the bottom root area. 

Start slowly when plants are young, trimming off a few inches under the plant. Remove any stems by cutting right back to the main shoot. Continue to cut up underneath as they grow to allow more space. How much you will cut depends on the type of tomato plant you are growing.

Determinate tomato varieties tend to grow shorter and bushier. As they mature, keep the bottom 8 to 12 inches clear to keep air flowing through.

Indeterminate varieties and large heirloom tomatoes can be pruned up higher. For these tomatoes, at full maturity, keep at least 12 to 18 inches pruned under the plant.

prune tomato plants at the bottom
Clearing space at the bottom of your tomato plants helps your plants in a myriad of ways.
Middle Pruning – How To Prune Tomato Plants

Clearing out a few limbs in the middle of your tomato plants will really help allow light and air into the plant. Once again, better circulation will help with everything from pollination, to disease control and ripening.

To prune in the middle, cut out a few stems and branches to open the plant up more. You don’t need to prune a lot in the middle, just a few to help the plant “breathe” a little better. Also remove any limbs with wild growth or that have any damage. This will help conserve resources for the plant.

Top Pruning

Top pruning is all about keeping your plants manageable. Quite often, tomatoes overgrow their cages or stakes. At this point, it is fine to top your tomato plants by cutting them off. It will not kill the plant in the least, it will simply keep it more manageable.

Before You Prune – How To Prune Tomato Plants

Always be sure to use sharp, clean scissors or pruners when pruning. Not only will it make pruning easier on you, sharp cuts heal quicker and create less stress on plants. Unfortunately, jagged edges pull more moisture and sap from the plant when healing. They also take longer to heal.

Clean or wipe down the cutting instrument between plants. If not, you can easily transmit any disease from one plant to the other in an instant.

As for when to prune, morning and early evening are best. The plants are under less stress at these times – and it is also easier on the gardener too!


A few final thoughts on pruning tomatoes. Remember to start pruning early. Take a few shoots off the bottom of young plants and keep them under control from the start. The more plants grow, the more you can prune off the bottom.

As plants mature, clear the middle space a bit to allow light and air to pass through. And finally, don’t be afraid to top your plants to keep them under control. Here is to pruning for success this year!

PODCAST RESOURCE LINKS – How To Prune Tomato Plants

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Simple Garden Life is a website dedicated to keeping gardening fun, simple and enjoyable! We publish two new articles each week along with a new garden podcast episode every two weeks. This article may contain affiliate links.