Suckering Tomatoes


This year The Deer Hunter and I have planted more tomato plants than ever before. Partly because we need to grow more of our own food due to the current economic situation-partly because we’ve had several tomato plants given to us.

We’ve planted hybrids-like Better Boys, Celebrity, Parks Whoppers, and Romas. But the ones I’m most excited about are the heirloom varieties we planted-they include, Brandywines, Lady Lucy, and Sweet Orange. We’ve had more than a few ‘volunteer’ plants come up from last year-so who knows what those will be.

The Deer Hunter has added support to most of the plants and some are already setting fruit.

I’ve heard all sorts of advice on growing great tomatoes-from putting lime around the plant to placing a dead fish in each hole as you plant. One tip I’ve always been confused on is the whole ‘suckering’ deal.

I’ve been told you should sucker the plants to ensure the energy and nutrients go to producing the actual tomato instead of producing extra plant growth. As tomato plants grow they can become heavy and unwieldy-the pruning/suckering also helps with that issue. However not all folks believe in suckering.

Many folks believe you get more tomatoes by letting all those suckers grow and set fruit. They do admit that the fruit will be smaller-but feel the number of tomatoes produced is more important than the size of the tomatoes produced.

As I researched pruning tomatoes this morning-I found some interesting tidbits:

~Never sucker or add supports to your tomato plants when they are wet.

~There are 2 different types of suckering-the simple method of removing the entire sucker-and the Missouri Method of only pinching off the tip of the sucker leaving the rest of the shoot to help in the photosynthesis process.

~Determinate plants usually don’t need any pruning as they are ‘determinate’ in what they will produce (however some folks say you should sucker them below the first flower cluster)

~All those suckers you remove-can be planted-and grown into more tomato plants.

~At the end of the growing season-approximately 30 days before the last frost-the tomato plants should be topped of all new growth to ensure the fruit already set has ample energy to ripen before a killing frost.

Basically a boat load of contradictory advice is what I found! Do you sucker yours? Got any other tricks or advice for growing tomatoes? I’d love to hear about it leave me a comment!


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  • Reply
    June 15, 2010 at 8:10 pm

    i’ve tried everthing on my tomatos. I have planted them deep,shallow,in a trench,in a pot,in a pot upside down,I’ve tied them up,I’ve let them run on the ground,I’ve cut suckers,and I’ve let them stay! My conclusion is this. If the weather is good,and you take care of them,they will grow good fruit.

  • Reply
    Amy @ parkcitygirl
    June 17, 2009 at 1:01 am

    My grandpa always took off extra branches too, that way there’s enough energy going to ripen the fruit. Sounds like you have some great varieties!

  • Reply
    Miss Cindy
    June 16, 2009 at 5:01 pm

    I haven grown many tomatoes so I have no first hand information. However my folks always removed the suckers and they made good tomatoes!
    So, this year I have a bucket garden of tomatoes and I will be suckering them!

  • Reply
    trisha too
    June 12, 2009 at 2:44 pm

    I’ve never even heard of suckering, and we live in Missouri!
    Miracle Grow, that’s our only trick.
    Maybe the composted chicken poo helps, too.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 8:14 pm

    No advise here, but lots of well wishes for your garden and family. I have only one tomato this year, Celebrity. I put it in a big green pot and put it on the trunk lid of my son’s 61 Comet. He ain’t too happy with me but I ain’t too happy the car is in my garden spot. Hmmmm, impasse? LOL happy gardening to everyone.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 4:15 pm

    I was suckering ours until my hubby told me I didn’t need to if they’re in cages (we usually stake them with a metal fence post). We found these really great heavy-duty cages by someone’s garbage a couple of months ago, so we’re using them this year. My tomato plants are a mixture this year of hybrids and heirlooms. Early girl, better boys, celebrity, brandywine, cherokee purple, elberta peach, and hillbilly.

  • Reply
    petra michelle
    June 11, 2009 at 10:28 am

    Morning Tipper! Sounds like you’re going to have a lush assortment of tomatoes! Yum! And enjoy, Tipper! :))

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 10:27 am

    Tipper, I suckered mine when I put them out, but haven’t touched them since. We only have Celebrity and Romas out right now. I’d like to have more, but I need more places to put them.
    I enjoyed the Appalachian vocabulary, I hear all of them except ‘dope’~that one’s not too common around here.

  • Reply
    June 11, 2009 at 9:40 am

    Nope, not a single word of advise. I haven’t suckered my plants in the past, but may do it this year. Our gardening season is so far behind yours. My plants are still little, with not a flower on them yet. I am growing a heirloom variety this year that I got from a local nursery, can’t remember the name right now, I’ll have to look, and a grape variety. My son, Dustin, has a beefsteak plant in a topsy-turvy planter, so we’re really interested to see how that one does!

  • Reply
    June 10, 2009 at 8:08 pm

    wow! it looks like we have to replant mark’s tomatoes cause the frost got em. we were hoping they would be okay but they look real bad. it is supposed to be getting warmer this weekend but i am mighty weary of 50 or less these days. i would love to see the sun, makes all the diff in the worlf. but the raspberries are going nuts…still seems like too many.

  • Reply
    Carolyn A.
    June 10, 2009 at 7:29 pm

    Wow! You’re my new ‘go to’ person if I ever get a garden. I’ve learned so much in the posts you write and the research you do on your subjects. Never heard of suckering and must tell Sister S about it in case she ever starts another garden. Will also tell Roxanne cause I know she plants tomatoes every year. Thanks Tipper. xxoo

  • Reply
    Nancy Simpson
    June 10, 2009 at 7:17 pm

    Thanks to all for the information and for the various opinions.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2009 at 9:44 am

    So funny, Missouri is know for being Suckers?
    Good luck on all the tomatoe plants. I only have 2 grape tomato plants out. 2 my son didn’t have room for.
    We will be at my brother in law’s mercy for give aways! He usually comes through.

  • Reply
    Fishing Guy
    June 10, 2009 at 8:09 am

    Tipper: I always sucker my plant, I like to have one split in case anything goes wrong with one side. I take all the lower leaves off the plant. I think this helps with the top growth. The lower branches will evetually wither and die but I help them along. I always mulch to stop the weeds from taking over the garden.
    Lanny has a nice write-up on your gift this month.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2009 at 7:44 am

    Yes, I sucker my tomato plants. Some years I have not and my plants were way too heavy. Also, this time of year I keep pinching off the blooms. I try to let the plant get well established before I let them start growing fruit. As far as tying them up….I do tye them up, just to keep fruit from rotting while touching the ground and to keep varmints away from my tomatoes.

  • Reply
    June 10, 2009 at 2:06 am

    I get my hackles up with all that confounded conflicting advice! Drives me. Then I try to run an “experiment” to see for myself and sure nuff that is the time all heck breaks loose and I lose all sense of what I was aiming the ‘spearment for. Buggers. So instead I trick the trolls that foil my efforts by being nonchalant about things, do a little of this to that, a little of that over here, definitely not carrying a notebook around or making any records on anything and wahlah those are the years everything just seems to fall into place.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 9:20 pm

    That was an education. It’s amazing to me to think all those suckers can become new plants. That is tempting right there. Good luck with your tomatoes.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 7:54 pm

    I pinch my suckers but did not think about planting the suckers. Think I’ll try it and see what happens. We are also trying some heirloom tomatoes this year -Cherokee purple and Moskvich. I’m looking forward to some bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwiches in the near future.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 7:00 pm

    Never heard of that but, I am sure my mother has.
    My wife and I are considering planting a few veggies for next year. I think it is to late this year.

  • Reply
    Brenda Kay Ledford
    June 9, 2009 at 5:36 pm

    This is a very informative posting. I didn’t know you were susposed to remove the sucker tomatoes. Glad you posted this so I can do the same to my tomatoes. Great posting.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 5:21 pm

    Tipper.. could you Email me please. I am curious what part of NC you live in. My husband is a Wilson and his family is from around Mt. Holly. He was raised pretty much all over because he is an Army brat. He lived for some time around Lincolnton (not sure if I spelled that right). His son is moving here next week from King’s Mountain, NC. My mom is currently in Kentucky, but they own their home in Connley Springs, NC up close to Hickory.
    I think I need to get with his mom and dad and try to do a family tree for his side of the family. He says his Grandpa Wilson’s first name was Ray. I think it’s sad that his family history is getting lost. Anyway, he sure got his musical abilities from somewhere.
    Love your blog and the music.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 5:06 pm

    My grandma never suckered her’s and they were fine. We had lots of “tommy toes” come up every year where she threw out “bad tomatoes”. In the late fall she would pick the last of the green fruit just before the frost, wrap them in newspapers and put them under the bed in an opened cardboard box to ripen up. We would have fresh ripe tomatoes long into winter that way.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 3:13 pm

    Tipper, I think I spend half the summer suckering the tomato plants. They would get way too large and heavy if you didn’t. We used metal stakes this year, also. We were tired of the wooden ones breaking under the weight. We love tomatoes! I like to pick them off and eat them whole. Tomato slices are also good on grilled cheese sandwiches.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 3:07 pm

    I am trying to grow some here. I have never heard of this before and my dad grew them my whole life.

  • Reply
    Farm Chick Paula
    June 9, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I don’t know about the other type of tomato plants, Tipper, but I’ve put out Brandywines for the last couple of years and I don’t do anything to them but stake them. They are awesome- the best flavored tomato I’ve ever had! I’m glad you’re trying the heirloom varieties- I think they’re so much better.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 2:20 pm

    I leave my tomato plants alone. I have left some of my vines uncaged this year also. That happened a few years ago, not intentionally , more being trifling than any other reason. How ever I had a ridiculously bumper crop of tomatos that year. So i’m experimenting with some of them this year. I have to say so far they are going nuts. I am not having any wilt with those either. All of my different varieties have a tomato worm! (Insert bad word here). Any suggestions ? I am trying to avoid 7 dust. Bee population…I just may have to anyway.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 2:14 pm

    Hi Tipper,
    I always sucker my tomato plants. Suckering is especially good when training plants to grow up a stake. Sometimes cutworms are a problem for tomatoes here in Florida.I take a piece of aluminum foil about 2 inches high and make a collar around the stems of the plants. When I plant it, I make sure the collar is about an inch deep in the soil. This has helped my tomatoes and has eliminated the despair I feel when I find my plants cut down.
    It’s almost time for some fried green tomatoes.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 2:13 pm

    From my limited knowledge of growing my tomatoes the adding of fish or lime is really determined by your soil. Around here we lack magnesium to help the tomatoes get calcium so we mix epsom salt with water and pour it in a wide circle (not close to the base of the plant) around the perimeter of the plant.
    As for suckering, I’m all for it. We grow long rows of plants and they become so large and heavy that without suckering they would fall over or become a jungle with fruits that wouldn’t form into nice round fruit. For those growing a few plants in containers it’s probably not necessary to sucker.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 11:53 am

    Sounds like another opportunity for an experiment!
    We usually never suckered our tomatoes, we figure the extra fruit was worth any decrease in size. This is especially true if you are canning tomatoes (you have to cut up the larger one’s anyway). Oh, and we only grow heirloom varieties here, mostly Old German tomatoes, nothing even comes close to the taste of a red, ripe Old German tomato. Those hybrids just taste like cardboard. We always have plenty.
    The argument on the mountain seems to be whether to stake up your tomatoes, or to let them fall over and grow on the ground. My family always stakes up our tomatoes, but many neighbors don’t. As a matter of fact, we stake up everything…tomatoes, squash, beans, cucumbers, etc…makes for easier harvesting.
    Another unrelated question on gardening…do you pinch the bloom off of onions, or do you let them go to seed. my family always pinches the blooms to keep them from going to seed. Some neighbors swear that if you let them flower it sweetens the onion. Any opinions on this?

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 11:39 am

    This the first year we’ve had a garden in years..primarily it is my sons garden his work and he loves it. I did sucker the tomato plants, I have not heard of the topping of before the frost, but may be worth trying. i really missed having a garden a few of my favs are in the garden too…

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 11:36 am

    I love volunteers! I count on the grape tomatoes to volunteer and haven’t planted any in a while. Hope they come this year.

  • Reply
    June 9, 2009 at 11:22 am

    I pinch off the suckers, too. Some people may argue that you’ll get fewer tomatoes, but I counter that argument with the fact that the tomatoes I do get will be bigger – so it all evens out to me.
    It’s kind of like anything else around here, though… as 10 people and you’ll get 11 different opinions!
    Glad to know your garden is doing well!

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