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Tomato Sucker

This is not a how-to. It may appear suspiciously similar to a how-to. It in fact could be a how-to, if I had any clue at all as to what I was doing. I don’t. This is merely documentation of me trying. I am not a student of Yoda in the ‘Do or do not. There is no try’. Nope. I am all about the try.

Let me reintroduce you to The Tomatoes Who Ate Seattle.


Or would like to. It’s hard to believe we first met these fellows in January, that I almost killed them right off the bat, and that they’ve flourished despite all my ‘trying’. They are about to fall victim to a more of those educational efforts

I’m so proud of my tomatoes, that I’ve indulged them a little bit. I’ve let them grow up unchecked. Sans pruning.
That’s bad. Apparently. As I understand it tomatoes, need pruning for 3 reasons:
To increase air flow between plants as disease and mold prevention (especially here in the PNW).
To get sunlight to the fruit (so it will actually ripen).
To concentrate the plants energy on fruit production.
That’s a compelling enough of an argument to sway my caregiver sentimentality about not hurting them. The time has come for tough love! Trellis and prune! Trellis and prune! Sucker!

What’s a sucker? Someone who bothers to baby their tomato plants in this fickle maritime climate? Most certainly. Also, one of these…


Pruning is also known as ‘suckering tomatoes’. At a minimum, those interlopers found at the intersection of stalk and productive branch must be removed. As is my tendency, I’m taking the definition a little further. Any unproductive or downward growing branches? Sucker. Non-fruit baring, eating up the plant’s resources with no hope of a return? Outta here. Within reason of course. This is in accordance with the googling and youtube’ing I did this afternoon. For my most concise inspiration I turned to a Sustainable Eats post from way back in the day on pruning tomatoes. Also probably not intended as a how-to. It did provide me with handy before and after pictures. And the courage I needed to make the first snip.

I knew it wasn’t going to be pretty. It wasn’t even easy. I plucked, clipped, and twisted my way through the nightshade jungle. Here’s what I learned:

Long ago, I lost track of the who’s who amongst my tomatoes. I know I originally planted four varieties, 2 determinate (vining) and 2 indeterminate (bush). I have no idea what actually made it out to the raised bed. Or I didn’t until now. I can confidently say of my 8 plants, 6 of them are vining. Definitely vining as they crawl their way across the dirt 18″ away to get to the sunlight.

I should have at least trellised a couple weeks ago. That crawling is only the most dramatic example of the web my tomatoes have woven to support and stifle each other. My task was made much more difficult by the tangled state of my plants. The interior frame work you see pictured only showed up a couple days ago. Until then, they were on their own and they made a fine mess of things.

There’s fruit in thar!


A fact invisible to me prior to the required housekeeping. A discovery worthy of my efforts.
About those efforts, The Aftermath.


Not as traumatized looking as I feared. Sunlight and air are now getting to places they should. Watering is significantly easier. Could I have gone further? I’m not sure. I’m going to keep an eye on them for the next few days to gauge their recovery. All told, I’d say I hauled away a full plant’s worth of trimmings.


That’s no small tomatoes. Hee.

I even did a little post facto trellising, consistent with my use of only the highest quality garden equipment.


Nylon scraps. The most amazing part about that being that I had nylons to scrap.

And so, my tomatoes were tamed. Perhaps only temporarily thwarting their attempts at city consumption. After all we’ve been through together, I’m fairly certain they’ll live to see another day. I don’t feel (very) guilty for their harsh haircuts. I did however, give them some vermicompost tea last night with their watering. And I might have coo’d a few apologies. We have a long history of forgiveness, my tomatoes and I.

Have you ever suckered tomatoes? Or even pruned them? Any wagers as to wether I did this right or oh so horribly wrong? Do anyone else’s tomatoes look ready to start uttering “Feed Me Seymour”?

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This is our first year really going for it with the gardening. Normally we buy a few tomato plants and cut them in planters – this year we grew them from seed and ended up with 72 plants. We didn’t plant ALL of them, but we did plant at least half of that. It’s certainly a learning experience! I would really recommend reading Lois Hole’s book “Tomato Favourites”, it’s been a great resource for how to prune and care for different varieties.


72 plants!? Wowza! Even half of that is an amazing amount of plants! I too got a little carried away with seeds this year. These 8 are a fraction of what started in basement last January. I find it odd to have such a long term relationship with tomato plants.

Thanks for the book recommendation. That’s probably more thorough than my sporadic googling. 😉

Kimberly C

I had a hazy idea of how many plants I had, but didn’t really count until last week when I staked them… 33 plants. And they’re mostly about 3-4ft tall. Started as seeds in early March. I haven’t pruned at alllllll, and I expect I’ll be in the same boat as you. “Is this a thing I should cut? Well, I’ll find out by doing!” I also planted them about 12″ stem to stem, which I’ve heard is far too close together. I probably wouldn’t have been able to tell the difference between a tomato and a potato plant last year, so I have experience in any of this. Google is a very trusty friend to have!


Google has been my best gardening companion. That and Erica over at NW Edible Life. I hope you read that, because it will save your bacon…erm your cauliflower.

12″ apart is pretty darn close! I crowded mine in a bit too. Technically should have been per bed, I did 8. I couldn’t bare to part with any more of my tender little seedlings.


This is probably my 7th year growing tomatoes and I have never pruned them. This is my first year to have them hooked up to a drip system :)


That gives me great, great hope. Thank you. 😉 I feel like here in the PNW we have to give ourselves every advantage to get that much coveted red tomato.

Next year the name of the game will be irrigation.

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