Pruning tomato plants, and propagating tomato “cuttings”

Glamour shot of a glamorous tomato plant

Tomato plants have a knack for looking wild and unsightly. However, apart from aesthetics, letting a tomato plant have its way has some more drawbacks. First among them is the fact that it’ll take up more space, more sun. Secondly, tomato plants will sprout suckers – which is more often than not the biggest cause for untidiness. And these suckers will effectively delay growth of fruit.

The single most effective way to prevent these problems is by pruning the plant every few weeks. Pruning may sound like a lot of work, but it merely entails breaking/cutting off some branches (i.e., the suckers), and perhaps removing lower branches that are touching the soil. Now, what exactly is a sucker?

A sucker is a branch you’ll see growing at an angle between the main stem and a normal branch. Tomato plants have a simple structure, with flowers and leaves growing on branches at a perpendicular to the stem. So, you’ll typically find flowers and leaves on a branch growing more-or-less parallel to the ground. Suckers, however, grow at a higher angle, pointing upwards. And they grow where a leaf/flower branch meets the stem.

Images showing where suckers grow on a tomato plant

In the first image, you can see how a sucker grows between the main stem and a branch. In the second image, you can see how branches have either leaves (blue line) or flower buds (orange line).

Suckers can be further identified by their structure. Whereas a branch on a tomato plant will include either leaves or flowers/fruits, a sucker will be a mini-plant in itself, so it’ll have leaves, and a growing point (possibly with developing flowers). All you need to do to remove it, is to carefully break it off. Or you can cut it off using a knife, or a pair of scissors.

Since the sucker is a mini plant in itself, it’ll readily grow into a full-fledged plant, and that’ll bypass the first month or so that you’d need, to grow a tomato plant from seed. This, in turn, will ensure that you have a fresh batch of fruit ready when the mother plant settles down for a rest.

So, take your suckers and stick them in a pot of soil. Water regularly, and the suckers should take root soon! You can use these to replace your old plants, or give them away to friends and family. And that is how (and why) you propagate a tomato ‘cutting’.


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