Growing tomatoes is a favourite pastime for many gardeners, whether you’re cultivating them in pots on your balcony or in a large plot in your backyard. But if you want to maximize your tomato plant’s productivity and health, one important step is to pinch out the plant’s side shoots. In this article, we’ll explore the process of pinching out tomatoes, including when and how to do it, the benefits of this technique, and how often to pinch out your plants for the best results. Whether you’re an experienced gardener or just starting out, learning how to pinch out tomatoes can help you grow healthier, more abundant tomato plants, and enjoy a more bountiful harvest.

Pinching Tomato Plants
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How to Tell the Difference Between Side Shoots and Trusses?

Telling the difference between side shoots and trusses on plants, especially tomatoes, is crucial for proper pruning and fruit production. Here’s how you can differentiate between the two:

Location

  • Side Shoots: These grow at the angle between the main stem and the leaves. They emerge from the joint where a leaf attaches to the main stem.
  • Trusses: These are the branches that bear the flowers and, eventually, the fruit. They typically emerge higher up on the plant and not directly from the angle between a leaf and the main stem.

Appearance

  • Side Shoots: They look like tiny stems with leaves emerging from the main stem. As they grow, they can develop their own leaves, flowers, and fruit, making the plant bushier.
  • Trusses: They have a distinct appearance with a series of small buds or flowers. As they mature, these buds will blossom and eventually produce fruit.

Purpose

  • Side Shoots: Their primary function is vegetative growth. If left unpruned on determinate tomato varieties, they can divert energy from fruit production, leading to a bushier plant but potentially fewer or smaller fruits.
  • Trusses: Their main purpose is reproductive. They produce the flowers that, once pollinated, will develop into fruit.
How to Identify Side Shoots
How to Identify Side Shoots

Why Pinch Out Tomatoes?

Pinching out tomatoes offers several key benefits that can help you grow healthier, more productive plants. Here are some of the main advantages of this technique:

1 – Increased Fruit Yield and Size

Pinching out tomatoes can lead to a larger overall crop of fruit, as the plant’s energy is directed towards growing bigger tomatoes rather than producing more foliage. Additionally, the fruit that does develop is likely to be larger and healthier due to the increased nutrients and resources available to each tomato.

2 – Improved Plant Health and Disease Resistance

By removing the side shoots of a tomato plant, you improve air circulation and reduce humidity around the plant, which can help prevent the growth of mould and other fungal diseases. In addition, focusing the plant’s energy on fruit production can help it build up its overall strength and resilience, making it less susceptible to pests and diseases.

3 – Enhanced Air Circulation and Light Exposure

Pinching out tomatoes allows more light to reach the centre of the plant and improves air circulation, which can help prevent the growth of harmful bacteria and promote healthier overall growth. This can also help prevent sunscald on the fruit, as the leaves will be less likely to shade the tomatoes as they ripen.

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Planting Tomatoes in a Grow Bag
Planting Tomatoes in a Grow Bag

How to Pinch Out Tomatoes

By pinching out your tomato plants regularly, you can help them grow stronger, healthier, and more productive over time.

What You Need

  • Gloves

1 – Inspect the Plant

Inspect the tomato plant for side shoots, which are small stems that grow in the joint between the stem and the main branches of the plant. These side shoots will eventually grow into full branches if left unpruned.

As a general rule, you should pinch out any side shoots that are less than 2 inches long, as these are the shoots that are most likely to compete with the main stem for nutrients and light.

2 – Pinch Out the Shoots

Using your fingers, remove the side shoots. To do this, locate the base of the side shoot where it joins the main stem, and pinch or cut it off cleanly. Be sure not to damage the main stem or any of the other branches on the plant. Repeat this process for all the side shoots on the tomato plant that you want to remove.

Tomato Plant Side Shoot
Tomato Plant Side Shoot

Tips for Pinching Out Tomatoes

Pinching out tomatoes is a simple but important technique that can help your plants grow stronger and produce more fruit. But how often should you do it? Here are some general guidelines to follow:

Pinch Out the Side Shoots Once a Week

As a general rule, it’s a good idea to pinch out the side shoots once a week during the growing season. This will help prevent the plant from becoming too bushy and will redirect its energy towards fruit production.

Be sure to remove side shoots that are less than 2 inches long, as these are the shoots that are most likely to compete with the main stem for nutrients and light.

Stop Pinching Side Shoots After the First Flowering Truss

Once your tomato plant has developed its first flowering truss, it’s time to stop pinching out the side shoots. This is because the plant will need all of its foliage to produce a healthy crop of fruit. From this point on, focus on supporting the main stem and trusses with stakes or cages to ensure that the fruit stays off the ground and has plenty of room to grow.

Pinch out the Growing Tip of the Main Stem After Four to Five Trusses

Once your tomato plant has produced four to five trusses of fruit, it’s a good idea to pinch out the growing tip of the main stem. This will help the plant direct its energy towards ripening the existing fruit rather than producing new growth. Be sure to use your fingers and make a clean pinch to avoid damaging the plant.

Conclusion

Pinching out tomatoes is a simple but effective technique that can help your plants grow stronger and produce more fruit. By removing side shoots and redirecting the plant’s energy towards the main stem and trusses, you can promote healthy growth and prevent your plants from becoming too bushy. Remember to inspect your plants regularly and remove any side shoots that are less than 2 inches long, and stop pinching out the side shoots once the plant has developed its first flowering truss. Additionally, pinch out the growing tip of the main stem after four to five trusses to focus the plant’s energy on ripening the existing fruit.

Tips for Pinching Out Tomato Plants Infographic

Garden Doctor Tips

“It is best to use your fingers to pinch out the tomatoes to prevent the spread of disease between plants – just make sure your hands are clean!”

“Use stakes or cages to support the main stem and trusses. Supporting your tomato plants with stakes or cages will help keep the fruit off the ground and reduce the risk of disease or pest damage!”

“When pinching out tomatoes, it’s important to be gentle with the plant to avoid damaging the stem or leaves. Take your time and be careful not to apply too much pressure when removing side shoots or pinching out the growing tip!”

Frequently Asked Questions

When should you pinch out tomatoes?

You should pinch out tomatoes regularly during the growing season, starting when the plant is young and continuing until it has produced its first flowering truss. After the first truss has formed, stop pinching out the side shoots and allow the plant to produce fruit.

Where do you pinch out tomato plants?

You should pinch out tomato plants by removing any new growth between the main stem and a branch. These side shoots can be pinched out with your fingers or removed with sharp pruning shears.

Should you pinch out tomato plants?

Yes, pinching out tomato plants can help promote healthy growth and increase fruit production. By removing the side shoots and redirecting the plant’s energy towards the main stem and trusses, you can encourage the plant to grow stronger and produce more fruit.

Should I pinch off the first tomato flowers?

It is not necessary to pinch off the first tomato flowers, but some gardeners choose to do so in order to encourage the plant to put more energy into vegetative growth rather than producing fruit too early. Removing the first flowers can also help the plant develop a stronger root system before focusing on fruit production.

Where do you pinch a plant?

The location where you pinch a plant depends on the type of plant and the reason for pinching. In the case of tomato plants, you should pinch out the side shoots that grow between the main stem and the leaves. For other types of plants, you may need to pinch out the growing tip of the main stem to encourage branching or remove dead or diseased growth to promote healthy growth.

Do you need to pinch out tumbling tom tomatoes?

No, “Tumbling Tom” tomatoes, like other determinate or bush-type tomato varieties, do not require pinching out (also known as “pruning the suckers”). These varieties are bred to grow to a fixed size and then focus their energy on producing fruit.


Author

Trevor Wright is not just a seasoned horticulturist; he’s the esteemed Garden Doctor. With a BSc in Horticulture and years of hands-on experience in the soil, Trevor has become a trusted mentor for all things gardening. As the founder of Garden Doctor, he’s committed to clarifying the intricacies of gardening, offering straightforward advice that’s rooted in years of practice. His writing is a garden of how-tos, savvy insights, and comprehensive guides that enable individuals to nurture and grow their garden dreams. When he’s not knee-deep in garden beds, Trevor is at his keyboard passing on his green-thumbed wisdom to budding gardeners, ensuring that the legacy of sustainable and joyful gardening blossoms far and wide.


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