How to prune tomato plants in 3 easy steps

Lady pruning tomato plants
(Image credit: Shutterstock)

If you prefer the taste of homegrown tomatoes in your salads or meals, you can easily learn how to grow tomatoes from seeds. But once your tomatoes start to flourish, you’ll need to know how to prune tomato plants for a bumper harvest. Homegrown tomatoes are not only as fresh as you can get, but will also save you money on your grocery bills.

Knowing how to prune tomato plants properly will help to boost the plants growth and production of juicy tomatoes all year round. Pruning allows all of the stems and leaves to receive sufficient sunlight, so the plant is able to photosynthesize more efficiently.

Bear in mind, pruning also depends on the tomato variety. For indeterminate or "vining" varieties, including most cherry tomatoes, pruning dead stems and leaves will ensure that all the nutrients are going to the tomatoes. However, if you're growing a determinate (or bush) variety, this doesn’t require a lot of pruning. These varieties tend to grow to a predetermined size and ripen all of their fruit in a short amount of time. So if you find that your tomatoes are not producing much fruit, follow these handy tips on how to prune tomato plants for a juicy harvest. 

We've got additional tips on how to grow tomatoes in pots. Plus, we've also covered how often should you water tomato plants and when should you do it? While you work in the garden, you might want to check out our guide on the best gardening gloves that we have tried and tested as well.

Watch out for these 7 mistakes to avoid when growing your own tomatoes as well. 

How to prune tomato plants 

1. Trim off the dead leaves 

Pulling off dead leaf from tomato plant

Pulling off dead leaf from tomato plant (Image credit: Shutterstock)

First, remove any dead or yellowing leaves that you see. If you notice the stems and leaves below the first flowers turn yellow, this is a good sign to start pruning.  

2. Cut off the tomato suckers 

Pruning tomato suckers

Pruning tomato suckers (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Next, locate the tomato suckers, which are the side shoots that grow in the ‘V’ space between the stem and a branch of a tomato plant. Remove the suckers using one of the best pruning shears, or simply pinch off with your fingers if they are less than two inches long. If you don’t prune these shoots, they will grow into full-sized branches. In addition, suckers left will take energy from the rest of the plant and cause the tomatoes to grow smaller.

TIP: It’s easier to remove these shoots when they are small, to prevent less stress to the plant when they grow bigger.  

3. Remove low-hanging branches 

Pruning low-hanging branches from tomato plant

Pruning low-hanging branches from tomato plant (Image credit: Tom's Guide)

Next, remove any long, low-hanging branches that are touching the soil. Leaves that touch the soil are prone to fungi or other bacterial viruses that can infect the rest of the plant.

TIP: If your tomato plant still looks overgrown, prune out a few of the leaves to thin it more, and control the size.  Just ensure to keep most of the leaves on the plant. 

How often should I prune tomato plants? 

Lady pruning tomato plants

Lady pruning tomato plants (Image credit: Shutterstock)

Depending on the time of year, tomato plants should be pruned once a week at first. However, during the summer peak, twice a week is recommended. Simply check each tomato plant for suckers and pinch them off as soon as as possible. Experts suggest pruning tomatoes when they’re small, and as soon as the flowers start to form. This will help the fruits ripen much faster, before the frost comes.

Tips for growing tomato plants  

  • Stakes or a trellis will support your tomato plants and keep them off the ground. These also help them grow vertically, and save space in your backyard
  •  If you don’t have a garden but are using outdoor planters, avoid plastic pots. These prevent natural air circulation to the plant which can result in root damage or mold. Terra cotta pots are good for maintaining tomato plant growth
  • Water regularly for at least an inch of moisture each week, and more in the summer 

If you want to learn how to grow root vegetables check out how to plant potatoes and when to do it. Or learn how to plant asparagus the easy way for delicious meals. If you're looking for an indoor project, check out how to grow an avocado tree from a seed.  

You can also learn how to identify any plants instantly on your Android phone.

Cynthia Lawrence
Content Editor, Homes

As the Homes Content Editor, Cynthia Lawrence covers all things homes, interior decorating, and garden-related. She has a wealth of editorial experience testing the latest, ‘must-have’ home appliances, writing buying guides and the handy ‘how to’ features. 

Her work has been published in various titles including, T3, Top Ten Reviews, Ideal Home, Real Homes, Livingetc. and House Beautiful, amongst many.

With a rather unhealthy obsession for all things homes and interiors, she also has an interior design blog for style inspiration and savvy storage solutions (get rid of that clutter!). When she’s not testing cool products, she’ll be searching online for more decor ideas to spruce up her family home or looking for a great bargain!