Should you be trimming your tomato suckers?
We’ve all been there.
An experienced farmer is telling you that you have to get out and prune your tomato suckers every day in order to get the best yield.
Another farmer is telling you that it’s really not a big deal whether you pick the tomato suckers or not. And some of you may be asking me- What the heck are you talking about pruning tomato suckers?!
I’m going to give you the dirt on what to do with your tomato suckers. The once and for all answer!
This post contains affiliate links. To view my affiliate disclaimer, click here.
First of all, what is a tomato sucker?
When you look at a tomato plant, you’ll notice the main stem of the plant and every so often, a limb that branches out from the stem and has leaves on it.
Tomato plants are notorious for developing a second branch in the crook of a branch that is already developed.
Basically, it looks like a second limb coming out of the crotch of an established limb.
These tomato suckers develop on some of the older limbs and aren’t usually seen on the newest limbs.
When the tomato sucker first develops it looks like two tiny leaves sprouting out of the crotch region. If the tomato sucker is left to grow, it will eventually become as large as some of the other limbs on the plant.
What does the tomato sucker do?
A tomato sucker is just like any of the other branches on the tomato plant. It develops leaves, flowers and fruits if left alone. The tomato suckers simply develop differently than other branches do.
Many people choose to pick the suckers off of the plant because they think they aren’t going to produce tomatoes and therefore simply ‘suck’ the energy out of the plant that could otherwise be used to produce tomatoes.
The reality is that these limbs simply take a little bit longer to develop fruit than the normal limbs do. They can still be productive members of society. 🙂
If tomato suckers can be productive, why am I being told to prune them?
Before we go any further, I’ll tell you that there are many different opinions on what to do with tomato suckers. As I mentioned before, suckers can produce fruit. I also told you that they tend to be a little slower growing. This also applies to the fruit that they will bear.
Depending on the variety of tomato, some tomato suckers will even produce fruit that is significantly smaller than the fruit produced by the normal limbs. If that’s the case with your variety, then I say pluck all of the tomato suckers. The energy would be better spent on a normal limb with normal sized fruit.
One of the ways that I’ve been able to increase the amount of crop from each plant is by using a method of gardening called plasticulture. You can find more info about that here and then what you can expect after just three weeks.
Not all varieties of tomatoes are the same.
Some plants will have suckers that are productive.
If the tomato suckers aren’t pruned, you will not only gain plant mass from the top of the plant as it grows up, but it will start to grow out as well. As the tomato sucker gets larger and starts to develop limbs of its own, those limbs will start to develop suckers, and those will develop limbs with suckers and so on.
Soon, the tomato plant is far to heavy and cannot support itself. One way that you can make sure to keep the plant healthy and strong is to make sure that you are feeding it properly. Yes, plants sometimes need to be fed also!
Many growers prefer to prune their tomato suckers completely until the central stem is strong enough to support a lot of weight. Once the central stem is strong enough to support extra weight, you could let a few of the suckers hang around. Many growers recommend limiting the amount of tomato suckers to 2-3 so that the plant doesn’t get too heavy.
Making New Plants with Tomato Suckers
There is another option for your tomato suckers.
If you are like me, you hate to waste a part of a plant that could potentially be productive for you.
Many tomato suckers can be picked and successfully rooted and grow into their own plant.
These tomato suckers will have slower growth rates, but will still give you a crop of tomatoes. If you don’t want to completely waste the suckers and you have extra space in your garden, you may want to try rooting the suckers.
I have been able to pick some tomato suckers and directly put them into the soil and they grow. Some varieties aren’t that easy. If I have some suckers that look strong and healthy (like ones that I missed when pruning) then I will stick them in the ground just to see if they will do anything. I was going to throw them away anyways, might as well give it a chance!
If you are in to starting new plants, you should check out my article on starting your own seeds. Planting seeds and then seeing baby plants come up just days later is so satisfying!
With that being said, you have to be careful with planting tomato suckers if you sellyour tomatoes.
Tomato plants that are grown from suckers are considered “F1” plants.
Growing F1 plants is legal in the United States and there isn’t anything wrong with eating the fruits from these plants.
However, it is illegal to market fruits from F1 plants.
As long as you are consuming them yourself, then you should be fine. If you plan on selling your tomatoes or tomato plants, then you may want to check into the laws regarding F1 plants.
Trimming Tomato Suckers (Pruning Tomatoes)
If you plan on trimming your tomato suckers, you need to make sure that you’re doing it the right way.
Tomato plants are susceptible to a disease called Botrytis.
Botrytis can be expensive and difficult to get rid of once your plants get it. It is easier to prevent it than to get rid of it. Botrytis is caused by a bacteria. The bacteria can only infect plants through open wounds.
You are creating an open wound on the plant when you pull the suckers off.
You can spread the bacteria by touching the open wound of the plant.
Use caution when trimming tomato suckers to lower the chance of spreading the bacteria.
The wound is less likely to get infected if you don’t actually touch it.
The same thing goes for tools. It’s a bad idea to prune tomato suckers with a knife or cutting tool. These tools can spread bacteria from one plant to another just like your fingers can.
Don’t try to pinch off a tomato sucker with your fingernails. These plants are very easy to prune and suckers will often pop off if pulled gently or snapped.
The easiest way to remove a tomato sucker is when it is small. You can simply pull the two small leaves off.
If you miss a sucker and it gets larger you’ll want to snap it off. Grab the sucker and snap it one direction and then the opposite direction. Unless the tomato sucker is huge, it should snap off pretty easily.
What To Do With Your Tomato Suckers
There are two sides to every coin.
You can keep your tomato suckers intact if you want to, or some of them, and see if they will produce extra fruit for you. You can try trimming the tomato suckers to keep the main plant strong and healthy.
If you choose to keep your suckers, make sure that you are keeping them in a way that is manageable. If you don’t want to prune all of them, make sure that you are at least pruning enough so that the plant doesn’t get too heavy and snap.
And of course, if you want to try to root your suckers and create F1 plants, go for it! Just make sure that you are doing it for yourself and not using them for plants or tomatoes that will be sold.
Either way that you choose to go, make sure that you are monitoring the health of the plant. If you keep the plant healthy, it will reward you!
You might also be interested in:
- How I Use Chicken Manure in the Garden
- Understanding Soil Texture
- Plasticulture Gardening
- Fall Garden Soil Prep
- Plant Illnesses and How to Prepare
- Feeding Your Plants
Do you choose to prune your tomato suckers or do you leave them on?