All About Tomato Suckers

Tomato season is just around the corner, ya’ll! Soon we’ll be carrying in baskets filled to the brim with bright red Romas, huge Beefsteaks, deeply colored Brandywines, and delicious Cherries. There’s nothing like a homegrown tomato.

We’ve discussed a lot about tomatoes: How to Plant Tomato Starts, How to Can Tomato Sauce, How to Save Tomato Seeds for Next Year, How to Save Tomato Seeds for Next Year, The Basics to Starting Seeds Indoors, and so on. Now it’s time to talk about suckers.

This post is all about tomato suckers: what they are, how to identify them on a tomato plant, the pros and cons to pruning them, and how to properly prune them. This post will help you decide if pruning the suckers off of your tomato plants is the right decision for you or if you’d rather let them grow. You’ll find even more info about tomatoes at the very end of this post!

What are Tomato Suckers?

Tomato suckers is a term that many veteran gardeners understand completely. They can probably skim over a tomato plant very quickly and instantly identify the suckers. But, for the new gardener, this term can leave him scratching his head and blind to where they are on his plants.

These small shoots will form into a full size branch if left alone, resulting in a bushier plant. But here’s the kicker…a bushier tomato plant doesn’t necessarily equal more, larger, or healthier fruit. In fact, removing these suckers can encourage the plant to send more energy into producing fruit rather than into forming lots of branches.

How to Identify a Tomato Sucker

A picture is perhaps the easiest way to explain how to identify a tomato sucker is. Take a look at the image below:

See that little shoot that is forming in joint of the main stem of the tomato plant and the larger branch? That’s a sucker.

What to do With Them

Some gardeners prefer to let the suckers be while others would rather prune them off. Ultimately, suckers will not harm your tomato plants, so do your own research into the pros and cons of pruning suckers before deciding for yourself. Here’s a quick overview into why you may choose either option:

Option 1: Prune Them

I’ve written a previous blog post How and Why to Prune Tomato Plants, so head over there for a deeper look into this process. But for now, here’s a brief overview of pruning suckers:

  • Simply pinch them at their base and they’ll pull right off.
  • Check the plants over once of twice per week in order to stay on top of them. They will continue to form even after pruning!
  • Prune while the suckers are small and weak rather than sturdy. This also ensures that the cut is small and less prone to allowing bacteria inside.
Bigger fruitLess leaves = less photosynthesis
Fewer leaves = fewer hiding places for insectsMore cuts = more opportunity for bacterial infections
Fewer leaves = more airflow = less risk of fungal diseases

Option 2: Let Them Grow

This method is obviously much simpler than pruning the suckers multiple times per week. It may be the choice for you if you simply cannot dedicate the time to such a task!

More fruitFruit is smaller in size
More leaves = more photosynthesisMore leaves = more places for insects to nest
More leaves = less airflow = increased risk of fungal disease

More on Tomatoes

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