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Are You Getting Suckered Out of Tomatoes?

August 03, 2011
Tomato Sucker Example 1

The tomato stem on the left is a sucker, emerging from the main stem. About 2″ above it is a flower stalk. Cut the former; leave the latter.

This week one of my coaching clients hinted that she’s got tomato suckers when she emailed to set up a session later this summer to review her garden progress. In her note, she specifically requested that I help her with tomato pruning.

“Sure!” I said. “But, if you haven’t already started, be sure you’re pruning out the suckers now!”

I’m guessing she’s not the only one out there who’s stumped about how and when and where and what to prune out of vigorous tomato vines. Tomatoes can grow like mad, especially indeterminant varieties. Heck, even some determinants and semi-determinants can get crazy-wild. (A discussion of determinants and indeterminants is a post for another day.)

By pruning out unwanted “suckers” — which are vegetative shoots that are more of a drain on plant resources than they are productive fruiting branches — gardeners can maximize fruit production and keep the plants from getting so dense and big that the potential for disease builds up. Keeping airflow & light to the plant’s interior helps reduce potential pest and disease problems.

Tomato Sucker Example 2

Clip out Suckers at the point where they emerge from the base of a leaf on the main stem

Briefly explained: suckers are the new shoots that emerge out of a tiny bud near the base of a leaf, right where the leaf base connects to the main stem. It’s important to be sure that the shoot isn’t a flower shoot as these are what produces fruit. And, its important not to remove the main, tip shoot on the plant if you want it to keep growing upward. (Sometimes tipping out the whole plant & removing remaining flowers is a good idea; but this comes a little later in the season as discussed here.)

Don’t be a sucker. Don’t be afraid to prune. Cut those suckers out & the plant will throw its resources toward producing and ripening more delicious tomatoes for you to eat. If you get suckered into not pruning, you’ll probably have a crazy-big, green plant without a lot of tasty tomatoes to enjoy.

Need more help maximizing your tomato production? Read on here for more help. Or, get in touch to set up a garden coaching session of your own where together we’ll make sure your tomatoes are growing great & nobody’s a sucker!


  1. Robin says:

    Ok, but wouldn’t it also be good to prune flowers early season to promote growth and get a larger later season harvest?

  2. Not in our experience.

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