Pinching out your tomatoes is an essential part of tomato plant care. The reason for this is the tomato plant is a naturally bushy plant, and if you let it grow as it wants to, it will put all of its focus into growing foliage at the expense of fruit. Naturally, nobody wants that, the intent is to grow lots and lots of lovely tomatoes, so, by pinching out regularly you will ensure the energy of the plant is going into growing the fruit and not the foliage. However, you want to ensure that you are removing the correct parts, and not removing anything that will disrupt or even harm the plant’s fruit production.
Which bits to pinch out and which to keep when the plants are growing isn’t always obvious, but with this handy guide we will steer you in the right direction. If you are not really at the stage of pinching out, and want to know how to grow tomatoes at home we have two guides for you linked to at the bottom of this guide. Ready to start pinching out your tomato plants? Let’s go!
Side Shoots vs Trusses
Before you get started, it pays to know what to pinch out and what not to pinch out. It’s the side shoots you are after, not the trusses. Snipping off a truss means snipping away at your potential crop.
What are Tomato Side Shoots?
A tomato side shoot is where the plant is trying to grow another stem usually between the main, vertical stem, and an established leaf stem.
What are Tomato Trusses?
A tomato truss is the stem that carries the flowers, which then turn into lovely tomatoes. To recognise a truss, look for a cluster of smaller stems where flower heads or yellow flowers are developing. Tomato trusses always grow from a stem and never where the leaf joins the stem.
How to Pinch Out Tomato Side Shoots
Once you have identified your side shoots, what you want to do is gently pinch them out with your finger and thumb. Some will come away easily, others may take a little jostling. You want to pinch or tear them away rather than using scissors or secateurs for a couple of reasons. Pinching off with your fingers results in better formation of scar tissue making disease less likely to take hold. Additionally, scissors can transfer diseases from one plant to another. Please note that side shoots do not need to be removed from smaller bush (determinate) varieties.
Pro tip – you can use side shoots to create other tomato plants. Let it grow to about 5 or 6 inches, then pinch carefully and place into a pot of wet compost. Keep the compost moist over the coming days and before you know it a root network will be established, and you’ve got yourself another tomato plant.
How Often Should I Pinch Out?
Check your tomato plants once a week and remove any side shoots as they appear. The sooner the better to divert all the energy of the plant into growing fruit rather than foliage.
How to Stop a Tomato Plant
Specifically, to stop a cordon variety tomato plant once the trusses have grown, you just need to take the main stem and snip it at the top. This means all the plant’s energy will be diverted into what it has already grown, rather than growing upwards. However, while energy will be diverted into the trusses and fruit, it will also divert into the rest of the plant, meaning it will try to form new shoots almost everywhere. But all you need to do is pinch these out meaning the trusses and fruits will get all the energy.
That’s How to Pinch Out Tomatoes
If you let cordon type tomato plants do their own thing, they’ll grow foliage at the expense of tomatoes. Now that you know how to pinch them out and also stop them, you can ensure most of the energy will go towards producing the trusses that in turn produce the fruit. Not doing this will mean you have a fantastically aromatic yet bushy plant that only produces tiny green unripe tomatoes by the end of the season.