How to Top Tomatoes – What to do When Tomato Plants Get Too Tall

| Care, Video

Knowing how to top tomatoes and what to do when tomato plants get too tall will give you the confidence to tame your plants while keeping them healthy and productive. In the height of summer, it might be time to prune those tomatoes.

While the idea of topping (cutting off the top growth) seems extreme and counter-intuitive, in this post and video, I’ll show you why and when you should consider this option, and how to do it safely for optimal yield and healthier plants.

The first thing to understand is that topping plants is simply an option. If you do nothing and allow plants to grow, they will eventually flop over the edge of whatever is supporting them and continue to grow.

The main downside is that fruit laden branches can kink and potentially impact production. Another risk includes excessive growth that blocks light and air to the rest of the plant (increasing the opportunity for diseases to take hold). Otherwise, it comes down to personal preference.

As numerous branches begin to flop over the cage from your indeterminate varieties (the type that keeps on growing), take a deep breath and consider cutting some or all of the branches off near the top of their cage support.

While pruning stimulates new growth, it takes courage to cut off tomato laden branches.

How to Top Tomatoes

  1. Identify the general area to make the cut. Then select a section of the branch just above the last set of fruit you want to leave on the plant and make the cut just about that.
  2. Leave some shade. When making your cut, it’s important to leave some shade from overhead or neighboring branches to prevent sun scald (a condition that will burn your tomato fruit due to direct exposure to the sun).
  3. Monitor future growth. To maintain current height, monitor branches for new suckers that will continue to emerge from each branch. Remove as necessary to maintain height.

Take comfort in knowing it is always traumatic to remove perfectly good, tomato-laden branches from healthy plants. But rest assured in knowing that the remaining fruit will continue to ripen, aided by the shade of overhead foliage.

 

The same scene two weeks later. Overall height is about the same. Continue to monitor clipped branches for new growth emerging along the stem and remove as necessary.

 

There’s also a bonus to topping tomatoes if you want to make more plants. You can take those cuttings (trim off the lower side branches) and stick the stems into an adjacent bed or pot. Firm in the soil around them and keep them watered—consistently for the next week. (You could also take cuttings and place into a glass of water. Within two weeks they will root sufficiently from the stem for transplanting back into the garden.)

 

The remnants of my pruning are the making of new plants. Cut off the lower side branches and insert the cuttings deeply into the soil.

 

Cuttings removed from topping can be rooted in water or stuck directly in the ground. If you keep them well hydrated and out of direct sun for the first few days, new roots will quickly form as a simple way to propagate exact clones of your topped plants.

 

A simple way to make more plants-just stick tomato cuttings into soil and keep watered.

 

If you want to tame your plants, with the added bonus of making more from what you cut, knowing how to top tomatoes when your plants get too tall will give you fresh, sizable new plants, more manageable existing plants, and a tidier garden.

Links & Resources

Episode 003: Growing Epic Tomatoes with Craig LeHoullier

Episode 005: What’s Wrong With My Tomato? Mid-Season Care With Craig LeHoullier

joegardener Blog: When is the Best Time to Pick a Tomato?

joegardener Video Blog: The Ultimate Tomato Cage in 5 Simple Steps

joegardener Video Blog: Sunscald-What Happens when Tomatoes are Overexposed

Growing a Greener World® Episode 803: Epic Tomatoes With Craig LeHoullier

About Joe Lamp'l

Joe Lamp’l is the creator and “joe” behind joe gardener®. His lifetime passion and devotion to all things horticulture has led him to a long-time career as one of the country’s most recognized and trusted personalities in organic gardening and sustainability. That is most evident in his role as host and creator of Emmy Award-winning Growing a Greener World®, a national green-living lifestyle series on PBS currently in production of its tenth season. When he’s not working in his large, raised bed vegetable garden, he’s likely planting or digging something up, or spending time with his family on their organic farm just north of Atlanta, GA.

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