Tomatoes: Removing Side Shoots or Not

Tomatoes: Removing Side Shoots or Not

The Tomato plants that we have grown from seed or purchased as plants are now growing fast. A question often asked by new gardeners is ‘Do I remove the side shoots from my tomato plant’? Well that depends, there are two basic types of tomato.

Growing tomatoes is one of most gardeners favourite thing to do. They are rewarding as home grown tomato fruit taste much better than the shop bought fruit. And just one tomato plant can give plenty of joy and produce for a small family.

What are side shoots and trusses

Tomato side shoots are young stems, the tomato plants trying to grow an other stem. These have to be removed throughout a growing season to reduce the tomato plants to one single stem growing.

The tomato plant really want to make lots of side shoots. You have to watch out after you pinched out some, the plant will try to grow more and more.

Trusses are where the flowers form, these are the shoots what will produce your crop. Do not pinch these out, or you loose out on your harvest. If you leave the side shoots on for too long the plants will put their energy into making foliage instead of growing fruits.

Determinate or Bush types.

Bush tomatoes include varieties like ‘Tumbler’, ‘Totem’, ‘Minibelle’, ‘Garden Pearl’ which a brilliant cherry tomato variety. You DO NOT remove the side shoots. These tomato plants know what they are doing, hence the name Determinate.

They will become bushy plants and grow outwards forming a mound or stay small and bushy, or cascade down therefore not need pinching out. These determinate or bush types are great to grow in pots, tubs or even hanging baskets. As the plant grows it will create a small bush, or will droop down from a basket.

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Planting bush tomatoes from seeds definitely has its advantages, as you don’t have to stake them, don’t have to pinch out the side shoots, and can just be planted and left in the ground without much maintenance and care.

Indeterminate commonly called Cordon or Vine tomatoes.

Cordon tomatoes include varieties like ‘Moneymaker’, ‘Alicante‘, ‘Sungold‘, ‘Gardeners Delight’ and ‘Black Krim’ This group contains the largest number of varieties that most people grow in greenhouses and you DO remove the side shoots from these plants. The name indeterminate, describes this group of tomatoes very well. Their growth needs to be controlled and trained by us. 

If you leave too many new shoots to grow, or even just few, the plant’s energy will be spent on growing more side shoots rather than flowers and more fruits.

How to remove tomato side shoots

The side shoots that grow out from the axis of the stem and leaf, need to be pinched off. These tomato plants will grow tall and need to be tied to canes or strings that are well secured in the greenhouse or tunnel.

This training is done to leave one stem which will carry the leaves and the fruit trusses, and divert all the plants energy into the developing fruits instead of excess growth. 

Growing tomatoes do need some of your time during the summer months, but it well worth the effort.

Depending on the height of your growhouse, the tomatoes are usually ‘stopped’ after about 7 trusses have set. This ‘stopping’ simply means cutting off the top growing point, after the maximum height has been achieved. I like to go over my cordon tomato plants once a week to remove unwanted growth.

While pinching out the side shoots you can also pinch the lower yellowing foliage, just snip the leaf by the main stem. Also you can pinch out every damaged, sick looking leaf.

Grow more tomatoes from side shoots

And as many side shoots grow, you can use them to create new tomatoes. Just cut the stem diagonally and place the cutting into a glass of water. Soon the stem will grow some roots, and you can pot this new plant into a pot of compost.

See also  Container Potatoes.

This method ensures you have a strong mother plant so all the new ones will have a vigorous growth. Soon these tomatoes will catch up with the mother plant, as by this time it will be summer. Make sure the tomatoes get as much light as possible, water them well, just so to have wet compost.

How to stop the plants growing

Towards the end of the growing season or rather when the plants have 5 – 7 fruit trusses set, the tomato plants have to be stopped growing by pinching out the growing top of the plants. This will make sure that all the plant’s energy will be spent on growing the trusses and fruits instantly instead of growing a long main stem.

As you do this the plant will insist on growing more side shoots so you have to watch out to make sure all your fruits will grow.

Helen Fowler
Born in Middlesbrough. Moved to live in rural North Yorkshire in late teens. Moved back to the town in my 30's to live near Stockton on Tees. Then after a divorce and a serious accident I moved back to rural North Yorkshire near Thirsk, where I live now. I am a passionate gardener, a keen amateur photograper, I love travel, music, anything artistic and I have a great love of nature and the natural world. I have gardened since my teens and I lived and worked on a farm for years. I have owned or have experience with most pets and domestic animals. I hope by sharing my own experiences and the personal knowledge I have gained over the years, to help and encourage others to gain the most from their gardening efforts.

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