Pruning the tomatoes

A “Chef’s Choice Orange” tomato before pruning

Fall is definitely in the air, and it’s mid-September already. I finally decided to prune the indeterminate tomatoes that are still doing well, even though the predictions are that we won’t get a frost until the end of October. Our “normal” first frost is around Oct. 5, but what is “normal” anymore? Regardless, it’s time to encourage those indeterminate tomatoes to quit growing taller, and enlarge and ripen the fruit they’ve already set. I do this in three steps. “Normally” I time Step 1 to occur about 6 weeks before our first expected frost, so I’m a bit late, if the predictions are wrong and frost comes in early October instead, but I think it will work out fine.

Looking at the photo above, you can see that the tomato plant has reached the very top of the trellis. It’s still producing abundant new tip growth and new flowers. It’s time for that to stop, so I cut each and every branch back to just above any walnut-sized fruit. That eliminates all that top growth and dozens and dozens of flowers. “Walnut-sized” is for a full-size, slicing or beefsteak tomato. And that’s it for Step 1. Sounds easy, and it is, but it takes longer than one might expect and produced a large pile of trimmings. Here’s a plant after pruning, with all those new-growth ends removed.

After Step 1 is completed.

You can see the tomatoes more easily. Since the days are shorter, and the sun is getting a bit “weaker” I don’t worry about sun-scald at this stage. And, I still continue to fertilize weekly, because there’s a LOT of tomatoes on there that I want to harvest. I’ll wait another week before doing the same Step 1 on cherry and grape indeterminate tomatoes, because their fruit matures and ripens more quickly. Check back next week for Step 2.


About carolee

A former professional herb and lavender grower, now just growing for joy in my new potager. When I'm not in the garden, I'm in the kitchen, writing, or traveling to great gardens.
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7 Responses to Pruning the tomatoes

  1. Thank you so much for explaining this process, Carolee. It makes so much sense. I learn so much from you.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. woollee1 says:

    Good info as always, thank you. I like your trellis system. Do you rotate out the tomatoes each year with another crop? Also may I ask do you use a particular fertiliser at this stage, one that helps fruit but not leaf production?


    • carolee says:

      Yes, I rotate crops and never grow tomatoes (or related peppers, potatoes, eggplant) in the same space for two years. I quit fertilizing tomatoes in mid-September and only fertilize young, fall crops. Frost is forecast for the end of this week, and I’m dreading it more than ever this year! Thanks for reading and commenting.


  3. What an amazing garden! And what a lovely blog. I have been reading about herbalism lately, and how fantastic that you’ve been growing so many years! Your tomatoes look good to me, mine were a total bust this year. Who knew tomatoes could get TOO much sun!?! I’ll know better next time 🙂


  4. I have two of five tomato plants still producing quite well. I’ve been pruning mine as well to try to give them support to finish up the season. As I was slicing a beautiful tomato for a sandwich yesterday, I told my husband I sure was going to miss them when the season was over. 🙂


    • carolee says:

      Yes, I’ll miss being able to pick a Sun Sugar anytime I pass the plant! I first saw tomatoes pruned (much more radically than I do) in a allotment garden in Germany a few years ago. I couldn’t believe the number of big tomatoes maturing basically on just stems! So, I tried a more moderate approach, and it works. I think next year, I’ll try one plant the “German” way because I liked that all the yellowing leaves were gone so it looked so very tidy. Those Germans are neat freaks, but it has a lot of merit.


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