“Pruning Tomatoes”: Who’s the ‘Sucker’ Here?
Q. Can you please explain which shoots on a tomato plant should be pinched off so that the strength of the plant goes into maximum fruit production?
---Miriam in Lower Gwynedd, PA
Should some of the shoots on tomato plants that develop between the main stem and leaf branches be pruned?
---David Walzer; Penn Valley, Pa.
A. No, I don’t believe that they should be. There IS an abundance of advice out there suggesting that selective removal of “suckers” will improve the health and vigor of a tomato plant, but this flies in the face of basic horticultural physics.
Plant leaves are essentially solar panels; via photosynthesis they turn sunlight into energy that the plant can use. The more leaves, the more potential energy to fuel the growth of the plant and its fruits—and to enhance the complex flavors inside those fruits. (This is why some classic heirloom varieties like Brandywine have a tendency to produce more leaf matter and fewer fruits than other varieties—the incredibly complex flavor components in these supremely tasty love apples simply need more energy to develop.) Removing healthy leaves to get bigger fruits is like taking half the solar panels off your roof to get more power—it just don’t work that way.
And it’s especially important not to remove any healthy leaves if your tomato plants get full sun all day. They need every possible leaf to shade their fruits and protect them from sunscald—essentially a kind of fruit sunburn. The actual fruits of a plant can’t process solar energy; only the leaves can do that. And having lots of leaves is great protection for plants in very hot and sunny locations. (This is why the common advice to ‘ripen green tomatoes on a sunny windowsill’ is equally bogus; all that sun is doing is cooking away flavor. If its fully grown, a green tomato will ripen in total darkness!)
Mike McGrath, host of You Bet Your Garden. Mike McGrath was Editor-in-Chief of Organic Gardening magazine from 1991 through 1997 - See more at: http://whyy.org/cms/youbetyourgarden/about/#sthash.Z21TnqM9.dpuf