Tomato suckers

My parents have planted a Sweet 100 cherry tomato plant this year in their backyard. My dad built a lovely trellis for it, and the plant looks healthy. They asked me about suckers and pruning, so I’ve decided to write a quick post about tomato suckers.

One of the common questions gardeners have about caring for their tomato plant is whether they should remove suckers. In my opinion, for the home gardener, it’s a personal preference. Space may also be a dictating factor. But first of all, which part of the plant is a sucker?


The quick answer is that a sucker is a shoot that sprouts up between a stem and a leaf. If you leave the sucker alone, it will grow into a branch, resulting in a bushy plant. In the photo above, I could pinch off the sucker by grabbing it at the base, closest to the joint, and gently pinching it off.


Sometimes, you will notice some suckers have flowers developing. Obviously don’t pinch off that sucker if you are interested in letting the fruit develop.

It’s important to understand what isn’t a sucker, so that you don’t accidentally snap a branch off.


Why would you want to pinch off suckers? Some people do it for aesthetics, while others believe that pinching suckers allows more energy to go into fruit development. Some gardeners will even pinch suckers that develop flowers if they feel the flowers will not fruit and mature before the end of the season. Still others do it because they want the energy to go into ripening the existing tomatoes. I’m not sure if all of these arguments are scientifically backed. These are ideas that get passed on from gardener-to-gardener.

I don’t fully practice pinching off suckers.

At the beginning of the season, when my plants are still compact, I pinch suckers to keep the plant looking tidy. Suckers closer to the ground are always pinched because I to keep leaves from touching the soil. In fact, I start to prune back low branches as the plant becomes established, meaning, I will cut back branches and leaves right at the main stem, so that the first set of leaves and branches start approximately 12-inches from the base of the plant.

I pinch off suckers early in the season, but there comes a point when I lack time and I simply let my plants grow wild, while still providing support through stakes and cages. I admit that I also love the look of a bushy plants. In my experience, I still have a great crop without constantly removing suckers, more than enough for me and hubs. I also know that plants need leaves to photosynthesize, so I am ok with keeping leaves on my plants. I also believe that the leaves protect the fruit from too much direct sun (burning), or any other extreme weather.

My Isis Candy tomato plant has bushed-out, and has been classified as a tree by my friend. The plant is currently around 7-feet tall. Of the seven tomato plants, this one is completely out of control, in a great way. I loved the reaction from hubs on the weekend when he saw the plant. It was disbelief. Never in the previous years have any of my tomato plants reached this kind of height.

The only problem with container gardening and large plants, is keep the plant well-hydrated. The summer heat has finally hit, with temperatures feeling in the high 30s (Celsius). The other six plants manage, but I have come home to this plant in a wilted state. This is frowned upon by gardeners, but I usually hose down the plant and within 10 minutes, the leaves spring back to life. Hubs and are now in the midst of setting up the drip irrigation to remedy this situation. That will be another post.


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