Many people pinch the shoots out from tomatoes, but not all gardeners remove the side shoots (or suckers as they are also called). I often don’t pinch them all out as I grow so many plants, but I do pinch some out as I am potting them on. It is only wise to remove them from the cordon types of tomato, as if you remove them from the bushy varieties, you will really reduce your harvest. The cordon type are the ones that will grow high and will need to be supported with canes or string.
WHY DO I NEED TO PINCH THE SHOOTS OUT?
If you leave your side shoots to grow, and don’t pinch them out, the plants may become very heavy, may become tangled, and could be hard to manage and control. They will take up a lot of space too. Pinching out all of the side shoots tends to result in larger fruit but can reduce your yield a little bit. The plant puts their energy into the fruit rather than into growing more foliage. If you have too many stems coming out of the plant it can also reduce the air to the plants and so increase the risk of disease.
HOW DO I KNOW WHICH SHOOTS TO PINCH OUT?
The shoots that you pinch out are the ones that grow between the main, upright stalk and the branches (trusses). These often grow at a 45 degrees angle.
HOW DO I DO IT?
It is easier to pinch the shoots out when they are small. You can just nip your finger and thumb together, literally as if you are pinching something, at the base of the shoot on the stalk, and the shoots will come off really easily. If you haven’t checked them recently, or you only have time to do this once a week, they might be quite large before you remove them. This will make them harder to remove and you may need to use scissors or shears. Make sure that the scissor are sharp to avoid damaging your plant. It is a good idea to use an alcohol wipe on the scissors, or the shears, in between snipping different plants so that you don’t spread diseases.
The advantage of pinching shoots out when they are young is that it leaves less of a scar on the plant, and so there is less chance of disease attacking it.
WHEN SHOULD I PINCH MY SHOOT OUT?
Tomatoes grow really fast and so checking your plants at least twice a week and pinching out the shoots will help you keep on top of them. Doing this regularly also stops you stressing the plant as you are not removing too much foliage. You can remove the shoots even when the plants are small. Some people also pinch out the top of the plant that is growing upwards once the tomato has at least 5 or 6 trusses on it, especially later in the season. This helps the plant put all their energy into growing and ripening the fruit. Other gardener’s leave them until there are 7 or 8 trusses, as some varieties grow more quickly than others, and it depends how early you have sown and planted them. I wait quite late to pinch the top of my tomatoes out as I do not mind them being green at the end of the season as I just ripen the fruit using a banana and a brown paper bag.
WHAT CAN I DO WITH MY SHOOTS THAT I HAVE PINCHED OUT?
I add my shoots to the compost pile or bin, but the larger ones can apparently be planted into wet compost and will form new tomato plants. To be honest I have never tried this as I always sow too many tomato seeds.
I have always had very successful tomato harvests and I am not fastidious about pinching out the shoots. My plants probably look a bit more of a mess than some other gardeners, but any one that has followed me for long knows that I am a lazy gardener as my time is taken up doing other things, and so I take short cuts. I do often remove foliage as the tomatoes are ripening to allow more air flow and to speed up the ripening process. Do you pinch your shoots out and have you had any success planting the shoots?