Late Season Tomato Pruning Techniques For In-Season Maturation

It’s crazy to think how far we all ready are into the short season. We’re all ready starting to perform some of our “end of season” tasks! The summer goes way, way too fast.

For those who’ve been around, you might be familiar with our tomato manipulation tasks. But, it’s an important topic for us extreme northern tomato growers, at least if you want every chance at getting ripe tomatoes by season’s end.

We’ve found it highly beneficial to perform an aggressive pruning of our tomato plants about 4-5 weeks to first frost. We do this to aid in speeding up fruit production and we’ve seen measurable results both in outdoor and greenhouse settings.

First, we top the plant, meaning we cut the entire growing tip off at the very tippy top of the plant. From here, we also remove nearly 2/3 of the lower plant leaves and branches, leaving only about 1/3 of the leaf and branches remaining. Be super careful not to cut any tomato bearing branches, though, as it’s easy to make a wrong cut!

If you want to be really aggressive, you can remove any existing flowers that don’t yet have tomatoes growing, especially if you’re growing outdoors. These flower sites have little chance at producing even an acceptable green tomato, prior to our first frost, that can ripen off the vine.

What this does is multi-fold. First, it allows a ton of sunlight to get at your tomatoes, which aids in ripening. Second, it provides a major shock to the plant. It will respond by sending its energy into fruit production, basically a self-preservation method. It “thinks” those tomatoes are going to fall to the ground and seeds will create the next generation of tomato plants. Third, it arrests all vegetative growth, meaning the plant has little else to do but mature those tomatoes on the vine.

Once you do this, indeterminate tomatoes will respond by producing a ton of suckers very quickly. It’s important to continue to cut those off, so the plant continues to focus on fruit maturation as opposed to getting bigger. Determinate tomatoes will pretty much deal with it gracefully, but you might see a little extra growth.

We’ve been practicing this method for over six years now and it has made a major difference in our final production. We struggled with way too many green tomatoes at the end of the season, but this tipped the scales in our direction. Good luck with your hack jobs and may you all have many ripe tomatoes!

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