Gardening Laidback Gardener Tip of the Day

Leave Those “Suckers” on Your Tomato Plants

(This is a repeat of a blog from last year, but I feel I should repost it, as I’ve been getting a lot of questions on the subject.)

20150604Contrary to popular belief, tomatoes do not produce suckers. Many gardeners will no doubt be shocked to hear that, because they were always told they had to remove these suckers. But a sucker is, by definition, a stem that doesn’t produce fruit. So-called tomato suckers (if allowed to grow, at least) will produce both flowers and fruits. These “suckers”, which grow from the leaf axils, are simply secondary stems. Studies show that unpruned tomatoes produce more fruit than pruned ones, although the fruit may be somewhat smaller in size. Still, there is a net gain in total tomato production by weight, so you get more “tomato” to eat by not pruning… sometimes considerably more.

“Now wait a minute”, I can hear you saying, “won’t those suckers sap my plant’s energy?” No, quite the contrary. Secondary stems bear green leaves and everything that is green on a plant carries on photosynthesis, that is, converts sunlight into energy. So they actually give the plant more energy.

It is hard to attach more than one tomato stem to a stake, so if you stake your tomatoes, by all means prune out any secondary stems you can’t handle… just don’t call them suckers. If you use a tomato cage, though, and these days most gardeners do, it will support the secondary stems very nicely and you don’t have to prune anything… well, at least until the end of the season, when it is worthwhile pinching off late-season blooms that won’t have time to produce mature fruit. But leave green foliage on the plant as long as there are still tomatoes to harvest.

Removing suckers: yet another useless task the laidback gardener skip!

Larry Hodgson is one of Canada’s best-known garden communicators. He has notably been editor-in-chief of HousePlant Magazine, Fleurs, Plantes et Jardins, À Fleur de Pot and Houseplant Forum magazines and is currently the garden correspondent for Le Soleil and radio garden commentator for CKIA-FM Radio. He has written for many garden publications in both the United States and Canada, including Canadian Gardening, Harrowsmith, Horticulture, Fine Gardening and Organic Gardening. He also speaks frequently to horticultural groups throughout Canada and the U.S. His book credits include The Garden Lover’s Guide to Canada, Complete Guide to Houseplants, Making the Most of Shade, Perennials for Every Purpose, Annuals for Every Purpose, and Houseplants for Dummies, as well as nearly 60 other titles in English and French. He is a past president of the Garden Writers Association (now Garden Communicators International) and the winner of the prestigious 2006 Garden Media Promoter Award offered by the Perennial Plant Association. He resides in Quebec City, Quebec, Canada.

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