Cutting leaves off tomato plants?

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Just read an article I found on the Farmer's Almanac website, well it was someone selling a book that was linked to the website. They suggested cutting the leaves off the plant so the plant would send all of it's energy to the fruit instead of the leaves. Is this true? You also had to buy the book to find out which leaves to leave. Anyone do this or have heard of it?
q cutting leaves off tomato plants, gardening
  28 answers
  • Liliana Wells Liliana Wells on May 14, 2014
    Did you get any replies? I have read that you need to knock off the suckers. These are little growths in the crook between the leaves and the stalk. Also, if you read Old World Garden Farms (read posts on Hometalk), he has a lot of information about tomatoes that I think will be helpful. Good luck.
  • Amanda @ Popper & Mimi Amanda @ Popper & Mimi on May 14, 2014
    I am not a gardener, but I do have a background in plant biology. Yes, suckers and runners can drain resources from the main plant. Leaves, however, are critical for forming the sugars and starches that make up the bulk of the fruit. While the stems have some capacity for photosynthesis (sugar/starch formation), leaves are the primary source of energy formation (sugar/starch) in a plant.
  • Pamela Knott Pamela Knott on May 14, 2014
    I forgot to mention that the article said there were 3 leaves you had to leave on. But to find out which 3 they were, you had to spend $19.95 on the book.
  • Douglas Hunt Douglas Hunt on May 15, 2014
    Amanda is correct. If you remove all the leaves (or even leave three) on a tomato plant, there will be nothing to nourish the fruit. Save your $19.95.
    • Mssmatch Mssmatch on May 17, 2014
      Yes Amanda is correct. But I have removed every tomato and left the 3 largest for the fair (winner of the biggest tomato) to keep growing until time to pick. Master Gardener
  • White Oak Studio Designs White Oak Studio Designs on May 15, 2014
    My Italian husband grew up helping his immigrant gardening grandparents and father in their gardens. They also worked Saturdays in the Long island estates as gardeners for wealthy homeowner there. They always cut off the bottom stems/leaves from their tomato plant so that the growing energy would go into the tomatoes rather than the "extra" leaves and stems. They did not cut them all off, but rather any that did not have tomato buds/flowers on them. My husband does that every year for us and it has always worked.
    • Dianne Johnson Dianne Johnson on May 17, 2014
      @White Oak Studio Designs I've always done that too. I had the best sun in my front yard and it didn't bother me a bit to stick tomato plants out front. I remember one year my in-laws pulled in to pick us up for lunch. My F.I.L. saw those gorgeous plants and said "Good Lord, I've never seen tomato plants that beautiful!" The lower leaves were removed and the big, fat tomatoes (just beginning to turn red) were clearly visible. I was so proud!!! P.S. when it rains or you water the plants, microbes can splash up from the soil onto the leaves. That's why you see die-back on those lower leaves.
  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 15, 2014
    Pamela, you can plant a tomato seedling by leaving the top 3 leaves on the plant, you lay the stem down in a trench type hole. It makes for a stronger, studier plant. Some people do remove the bottom leaves from mature plants to help increase fruit set and discourage both insect pests and disease. I personally find it's way too much work, since I normally grow multiple tomato plants for canning and drying. If I want to increase fruit set, I spray my plants with epsom salts water. (1 teaspoon Epsom salts to 1 quart of warm water) The tomatoes love the magnesium in the Epsom salts. It also works well with pepper plants.
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    • Bonnie Bonnie on May 18, 2014
      @Catherine Smith I had to chuckle, you sound so much like my mom who was an avid expert gardiner who comes from a long line of gardners/farmers. Your advise is correct and spot on. We also pick off and collect the green Horn worms, because the Hummingbird Sphynx moths are so beautiful to watch when they're grown. Sometimes my husband will just fling them off away from the gardens, but the lil' monsters always find their way back to their beloved tasty tomato plants. Pamela, I say leave the extra leaves on the tomato plants and let the Horn worms feed.... Monarchs eat the dill weed and no one seems to mind.... ha. As for picking off extra leaves from the tomato plants, that's really a personal preference and matter of opinion. The extras are referred to as "suckers" and can be pinched off next to the main stem. You can tell the difference between them and the fruit bearing leaves when the plant starts to flower. I leave them on if it's a really hot summer, because the extra leaves will shade the fruit from getting sunburned. (and leave something for the worms to eat instead of the main stem!) Try an experiment with your plants and see if one does better with or without pinching the sucker stems off.
  • Patty S Patty S on May 17, 2014
    My mother worked at a nursery, one of her jobs was the remove the suckers which are between the main stalk and the limbs. Leave everything else on. Also plant Marigolds close to each tomato plant to keep the big green worms away (the butterfly larvae). The butterflies hate marigolds and will stay away.
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    • Patty S Patty S on May 17, 2014
      @Sheryl Banak Amazing what we can lean on Hometalk isn't it. That's what they are. They are called a hornworm for no better description, but they are the butterfly larvae. More likely the Spanish moth.
  • Shawn Swain Shawn Swain on May 17, 2014
    I always remove the "suckers" that sprout. But I've never tried removing leaves.
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    • Shawn Swain Shawn Swain on May 19, 2014
      I know! She went nuts! I have twelve cherry tomato plants and six Roma. They are all in the ground and have leaves! I've always stripped the stems to about ten inches and planted them nice and deep! I have some lovely Romas that ar a bit larger than golf balls right now! I welcome any precautions to protect them from birds!
  • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 17, 2014
    Pamela, you need to do a little "homework" on companion planting for your garden. I always use marigolds (you want the ones that smell), nasturtiums, radishes etc. Please see this url for some advice for a beginner. http://www.organicgardening.com/learn-and-grow/companion-planting The vegetables are food for your body, but the flowers are food for your soul. ^-^
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    • Sheryl Banak Sheryl Banak on May 17, 2014
      I've done that, too, Catherine--with the marigolds. Read about it a long time ago ;)
  • Denise Young Denise Young on May 17, 2014
    When you remove the suckers you can put them in a small pot to start them off growing roots. I've got a lot of transplants that way. Also, it's good to start off hybrids since taking seed from them won't get you true to form plants.
  • Ernesto Ernesto on May 17, 2014
    Ms. Knott, information on growing tomatoes, pruning the suckers and such. Save on buying book. Tomatoes: AGrowing Guide Avegetable garden isn't complete without tomatoes. Since tomatoesare America's favorite garden vegetable, it's no surprise that there arehundreds of varieties to choose from. Home garden tomatoes range from bite-sizecurrant, cherry, and grape tomatoes to huge beefsteak fruits, in nearly everycolor except blue. You can grow tomato varieties that produce fruit extraearly, and there are varieties for every type of climate, including many thatare resistant to one or more common tomato diseases.Don't forget tomatoes especially developed for slicing, canning, juicing, orstuffing, too. Types Discovering which tomato varietiesare best for your garden will involve some experimenting, and your climate andpersonal taste will play a role, too. Some early types such as 'New Girl' and'First Lady II' will be ready to pick about two months after you set plants inyour garden, while main-season hybrid and heirloom varieties can take up to 80days. To extend your harvesting season, be sure to plant some of each type. Many standard cultivars are adaptedfor a variety of uses, including slicing, canning, and salads. The large, meatyfruits of beefsteak tomatoes are especially popular for slicing. Italian orpaste tomatoes are favorites for cooking, canning, and juicing. Sweet bite-sizetomatoes in a range of colors are very popular for salads or as snacks. Tomato plants are vines, and theyhave two basic ways of growing, called determinate and indeterminate. The vinesof determinate varieties (sometimes called bush tomatoes) grow only 1 to 3 feetlong, and the main stem and side stems produce about three flower clusterseach. Once flowers form at the vine tips, the plant stops growing. This meansdeterminate types set fruit over about a two-week period and then stop, whichmakes them excellent choices for canning. Indeterminate tomatoes have sprawlingvines that grow 6 to 20 feet long. Most produce about three flower clusters atevery second leaf. They keep growing and producing unless stopped by frost,disease, or lack of nutrients, which means you can keep picking fresh tomatoesthe whole season. Pruning is necessary, however, or they will put too much energyinto vine production. Planting Nurseries and garden centers offer a wide range of dependable,disease-resistant varieties such as 'Jet Star', 'Celebrity', and 'Sweet 100',and many sell transplants of popular heirloom tomatoes such as 'Brandywine','Green Zebra', and 'Cherokee Purple' as well. But if you want to take advantageof the full range of available cultivars, you'll have to grow tomatoes from seed. Unless you plan to preserve a lot of your crop, 3 to 5plants per person is usually adequate. Unused seeds are good for 3 years.Specialty mail-order suppliers also offer individual tomato plants for sale,which could be a good option if you don't have space for growing your own fromseed. At 6 to 8 weeks before the averagelast frost, sow seeds ¼ inch deep and 1 inch apart in well-drained flats. Seedswill germinate in about 1 week when the soil temperature is 75° to 85°F; at60°F the germination process can take 2 weeks. In most places, a sunny spotindoors, such as a south-facing window, provides the warm, humid environmentyoung seedlings need. If you don't have sunny windows, use a heating coil forbottom heat and a fluorescent or grow light overhead. Lack of adequate lightwill make seedlings leggy and weak. Once the seedlings emerge, keep thetemperature no higher than 70°F, and water regularly. Once a week, feed withcompost tea or fish emulsion, and discard any weak or sick-looking seedlings.When the second set of leaves—the first true leaves—appear, transplant toindividual pots or deep containers (such as plastic cups), burying the stemsdeeper than they stood previously. Whatever container you use, make sure it hasdrainage holes in the bottom. After this initial transplanting, give theseedlings less water and more sun. As the weather warms, harden off the plantsbefore planting them in the garden. Again, discard any weaklings that mightharbor disease. If you buy a four-pack or six-pack of transplants from agarden center, it's a good idea to transplant them to individual pots andharden them off for a week or two before setting them out in the garden.They'll have a more vigorous root system and you can make sure that the soil iswarm and the weather settled before planting day. Except in extremely hot climates, plant tomatoeswhere they will get full sun. To lessen shock, though, transplant seedlings ona cloudy day. Make the planting holes larger than normal for each seedling;cover the bottom of the hole with several inches of sifted compost mixed with ahandful of bone meal. For magnesium, which promotes plant vitality andproductivity, sprinkle 1 teaspoon of Epsom salts into each hole? Disturb thesoil around seedling roots as little as possible when you set them in contactwith the compost. Set the transplant so the lowest set of leaves isat soil level; fill the hole with a mixture of compost and soil. Or you canbury the stem horizontally in a shallow trench so that only the top leavesshow; make sure you strip off the leaves along the part of the stem that willbe buried. Many growers claim this planting method produces higher yields.Press down the soil gently but firmly to remove air pockets, and water well. If you're planting a bit early, or in generalwant to speed the growth of your tomatoes, you can shelter them with acommercial device such as a Wall O' Water or simply wrap tomato cages withclear plastic. Spacing between planting holes depends on how yougrow your tomatoes. If you're going to stake and prune the plants or train themon trellises, space the seedlings 2 feet apart. If you plan to let them sprawl,space them 3 to 4 feet apart. Letting plants sprawl involves less work, but itrequires more garden space. And unless protected by a very thick mulch,the plants and fruits are also more subject to insects and diseases due tocontact with the soil—not to mention being more accessibleto four-legged predators, such as voles. If you plan to train your tomato plants on stakes or in cages,install the supports before planting. Pound 5- to 7-foot-long stakes 6 to 8inches in the ground or insert the cages (it's a good idea to secure cages withstakes, too). As the vines grow on staked tomatoes, tie them loosely to thestake at 6-inch intervals with soft twine or strips of cloth or panty hose. There are also ready-made tomato cages, but theyare expensive to buy and usually aren't tall enough. For details on making yourown tomato cages, see "Super Sturdy Tomato Cages". Any slight frost will harm young tomato plants, andnighttime temperatures below 55°F will prevent fruit from setting. In case of alate frost, protect transplants with cloches or hotcaps, because cold damageearly in a tomato's life can reduce fruit production for the entire season. Growing guidelines Cultivatelightly to keep down any weedsuntil the soil is warm, then lay down a deep mulch to smother the weeds andconserve moisture. Give the plants at least 1 inch of water a week, keeping inmind that a deep soaking is better than several light watering. Avoid wetting thefoliage, since wet leaves are more prone to diseases. A weekly dose of liquid seaweed willincrease fruit production and plant health, as will side-dressing with composttwo or three times during the growing season. If you stake your plants, you maywant to prune them to encourage higher yields. Pruned tomatoes take up lessspace and are likely to produce fruit 2 weeks earlier than unpruned ones; theydo, however, take more work. Pruning tomatoes is different from pruning treesand shrubs—the only tools you should need are your fingers. You'll be removingsuckers, which are small shoots that emerge from the main stem or side stem atthe base of each leaf. Leave a few suckers on the middleand top of the plant to protect the fruit from sunscald, especially if you livein a hot, sunny area, such as in the South. Sunscald produces light graypatches of skin that are subject to disease. When the vine reaches the top of thestakes or cage, pinch back the tips to encourage more flowering and fruit. Helpful hint for pinching tomato suckers Use your thumb and forefinger to snap off the small, tender shoots that sproutat the base of tomato leaf stems. If you need to use scissors or pruningshears, you've waited too long. Problems Although tomatoes are potentiallysubject to a range of pests and diseases, plants that are growing in rich soilwith adequate spacing and support to keep them off the soil usually have fewproblems. Here are some of the common potential tomato problems: The tomato hornworm—a large, white-striped, green caterpillar—is an easy-to-spot pest. Just hand pick and destroy, or spray plants with BT (Bacillus thuringiensis). If you're hand picking, check to see whether horn-worms have been attacked by parasitic wasps first—if they have, the wasp larvae will have pupated, forming structures that look like small white grains of rice on the back of the hornworm. Leave these hornworms be so the wasps can spread. Also, plant dill near your tomatoes. It attracts hornworms, and they're easier to spot on dill than they are on tomato plants.Aphids, flea beetles, and cutworms may also attack your tomato plants. Hard-to-spot spider mites look like tiny red dots on the undersides of leaves. Their feeding causes yellow speckling on leaves, which eventually turn brown and die. Knock these pests off the plant by spraying with water, or control with insecticidal soap. If you are new to growing tomatoes, check with your county extension agent to find out what diseases are prevalent in your area. If you can, choose varieties that are resistant to those diseases. Such resistance is generally indicated by one or more letters after the cultivar name. The code "VFNT," for example, indicates that the cultivar is resistant to Verticillium (V) and Fusarium (F) wilts, as well as nematodes (N) and tobacco mosaic (T). Nematodes, microscopic wormlike creatures, attack a plant's root system, stunting growth and lowering disease resistance. The best defenses against nematodes are rotating crops and planting resistant cultivars. Verticillium wilt and Fusarium wilt are two common tomato diseases. Should these wilts strike and cause leaves to curl up, turn yellow, and drop off, pull up and destroy infected plants, or put them in sealed containers and dispose of them with household trash. Another disease, early blight, makes dark, sunken areas on leaves just as the first fruits start to mature. Late blight appears as black, irregular, water-soaked patches on leaves and dark-colored spots on fruits. Both blights tend to occur during cool, rainy weather. To avoid losing your whole crop, quickly destroy or dispose of affected plants. The best defense is to plant resistant cultivars. Bicarbonate sprays can also help prevent the disease from infecting your plants.Blossom drop, where mature flowers fall off the plant, is most prevalent in cool rainy weather or where soil moisture is low and winds are hot and dry. It can also be from a magnesium deficiency or from infection by parasitic bacteria or fungi. Large-fruited tomatoes are particularly vulnerable. Fruit set can sometimes be encouraged by gently shaking the plant in the middle of a warm, sunny day or by tapping the stake to which the plant is tied.Blossom-end rot appears as a water-soaked spot near the blossom end when the fruit is about 1/3 developed. The spot enlarges and turns dark brown and leathery until it covers half the tomato. This problem is due to a calcium deficiency, often brought on by an uneven water supply. Blossom-end rot can also be caused by damaged feeder roots from careless transplanting, so always handle seedlings gently. Try to keep the soil evenly moist by using a mulch and watering when needed. Prolonged periods of heavy rainfall that keep the soil constantly moist can cause leaf roll, which can affect more than half the foliage and cut fruit production significantly. At first, the edges of leaves curl up to form cups; then the edges overlap and the leaves become firm and leathery to the touch. Keeping soil well drained and well aerated is about the only method of preventing this problem. Fruit with cracks that radiate from the stems or run around the shoulders are often caused by hot, rainy weather or by fluctuating moisture levels in the soil. Such cracks, aside from being unsightly, attract infections. To avoid them, make sure you don't overwater. Tomatoes—like eggplants, potatoes, and peppers—are related to tobacco and subject to the same diseases, including tobacco mosaic. Therefore, don't smoke around such plants, and wash your hands after smoking before handling them. Plan your garden so that nightshade-family crops, such as peppers and tomatoes, are separated by plants from other families. Harvesting Oncethe tomatoes start ripening, check the vines almost daily in order to harvest fruits at their peak.Cut or gently twist off the fruits, supporting the vine at the same time to keepfrom damaging it. Most plants can survive a lightfrost if adequately mulched, but at the first sign of a heavy frost, harvestall the fruits, even the green ones. To continue enjoying fresh tomatoes, cut afew suckers from a healthy and preferably determinate plant and root them.Plant in good potting soil in 3-gallon or larger containers. Keep in a warm,sunny spot, and with a little luck and care, you can enjoy fresh tomatoes rightthrough winter. Ripe tomatoes will keep refrigeratedfor several weeks, but their taste and texture will decline. Green ones willeventually ripen if kept in a warm place out of direct sunlight. To slowlyripen green tomatoes, and thereby extend your harvest, wrap them in newspaperand place in a dark, cool area, checking frequently to make sure that none rot.Sliced green tomatoes are delicious when lightly dipped in egg, then in flouror cornmeal and black pepper, and fried. Tomatoesin Small Spaces Even if you don't have much room togrow vegetables, you can still enjoy the taste of a fresh-picked tomato.Tomatoes are easy to grow in containers, making them perfect for decks, patios, or balconies. Ifyou have the space, try growing full-size tomatoes in large fiberglass tubs orwooden barrels. For people with less room, there are dwarf cherry tomatocultivars, such as 'Tiny Tim' and 'Pixie Hybrid II’ that can grow in6-inch-deep pots.All container tomatoes need lots of sun, plenty ofwater, and a rich, well-drained potting mixture. Compensate for the restrictedroot zone by applying liquid fertilizer, such as compost tea, lightly but frequently, increasing both waterand nutrients as the plants grow.
  • Andrea Shea-Smith Andrea Shea-Smith on May 17, 2014
    I pinched off the wrong leaves a few years ago & was a disaster for my tomatoes. Now I only pinch off the old ones on the bottom. I also used to get black spots when I started until I put a Tums in the hole with the plant for calcium. Now I can get calcium in the starter plant food. Thank you for all of the great advise & the tomato book above.
  • Lorna Stone Lorna Stone on May 17, 2014
    Yes I not only have heard about it but use it all the time. The trick is to not let any 'sucker' branches grow on your plant. They are the ones that start growing in the 'v' of the branch and leaf You can also find out just how to do it if you widen your search on the web
  • Londa Barth Fulton Londa Barth Fulton on May 17, 2014
    If you look a commercial tomato farms they leave the plants pretty much alone until harvest. I take my cue from them. I use shredded paper I get from business (they will give it free so that they don't have to pay for disposal) to lay a thick layer on the ground. I try to keep it at least 6 inches deep all season. I Don't cage my tomatoes (farmers don't) and I have no issue with tomato worms. I get lovely tomatoes without pesticides. The paper mulches into the ground and helps keep moisture.
    • Pamela Knott Pamela Knott on May 27, 2014
      @Londa Barth Fulton Good idea! I have a waste can full of shredded paper sitting right next to me!
  • Jan318895 Jan318895 on May 17, 2014
    I only strip my toms at the end of season, so the toms can ripen, probably end of September
  • Irish53 Irish53 on May 17, 2014
    Yes they were fine.This is something I have done for over 30 years to rid the plants of pest.You are making a tea of the tobacco to spray on the plants not soaking the in it. There is a difference when you touch plants after smoking you are leaving the tar on the plant so there is a constant amount being absorbed by the plant. I use two cigarettes for a gallon of water. I strain out the tobacco . When you constantly smoke near the plants you were giving the plants a much larger dose of nicotine. Check out Jerry Baker. He has a lot of natural recipes for getting rid of all kid of pest.
    • Dianne Johnson Dianne Johnson on May 18, 2014
      @Irish53 So good to know! I got so paranoid about my plants and I couldn't figure out why they were dying! I was so discouraged when I found out what was doing it that I gave up growing tomatoes for now.
  • Irish53 Irish53 on May 17, 2014
    I feel so bad for you I hate people who just can't put the butt out and take it with them to throw out later. They are just so heavy. I have a elementary school for my back yard. People walk their dogs in what they think is the part of the playground the kids don't use. If I get to catch them I ask them to smile for the camera. I remind them they are not to have dogs on the school property.
    • Dianne Johnson Dianne Johnson on May 18, 2014
      @Irish53 My father was in the service and I learned to "field strip" a cigarette. Break off the filter! The rest will dissolve. The filter goes in my pocket. Can't tell you many of those suckers have gone through the washer!!
  • June Flores June Flores on May 17, 2014
    I have cut the leaves off my tomato plants for years and have always had bumper crops. The trick is to cut off the branches and leaves that are non-bearing. You can tell which ones are full of buds and which ones are just leafy. You don't cut the leaves and branches until they have set fruit but you do need to take off the suckers from the start.
  • Hilliriah Jacobs Hilliriah Jacobs on May 23, 2014
    iv'e just started planting tomatoes i thought i was sowing cucumbers then i saw tomato trees i was shocked. is it compulsary to transplant, because i have not,they are in an old barrow iv'e already seen flowers blooming
    • Catherine Smith Catherine Smith on May 26, 2014
      @Hilliriah Jacobs Unless their in a location that's not going to work for you, just leave them alone and let them grow.
  • Pamela Knott Pamela Knott on May 27, 2014
    Here's another question. I use a piece of fence to make a cage around my tomatoes. But that puts the center stem in the center of the cage. I see other people's plants vining up the cage, in and out through the wire. Should I have the stem closer to the edge of the plant so I can thread it through?
  • Suzanne Henry Suzanne Henry on May 27, 2014
    I gave up on using cages as the plant cannot get enough sun because the leaves are surrounding the plant.. I have been tying up my tomatoes ever since & pinching off the suckers. The more that you tie up the better & I still water through out the season. Good .Luck to all
  • Wanda sinnema Wanda sinnema on May 27, 2014
    I have always used wire cages, various styles.... I am trying something new this year....I read in ORGANIC GARDENING mag,,,,,Use a trellis form of staking... Luckily two of the cages was a green snap together style. I snapped all the pieces together into a row. planted the plants at every other stake and tied up like normal.. looking good so far.. advantage to this style according to the article.... better sunlight~fewer fall the plant when trying to pick since you are not reaching into the center of the plant..BTW I always pinch out a few of the leaves...A KIDS BLUNT TIP SCISSORS WORKS GREAT,,ALSO AN OLD BAPIR OF CHEAP BARBER SHEARS.. IF YOU HAVE LARGE HANDS....
  • Wanda sinnema Wanda sinnema on May 27, 2014
    ALSO,, for NATURAL "HOME TONICS" for all gardeners...... A MUST BOOK,,,,,is anything by JERRY BAKER....uses things like Listerine, a pinch of chewing tabacco, lemon dish soap, can of regular(not diet) 7-UP.... Epson salt,, etc.... SOOOO much cheaper and better for the environment that the commercial,,besides,, the money I save of these,,can buy more plants !
  • Anne Barnhart Anne Barnhart on Jul 27, 2014
    You can pour left over beer on your plant, coffee without the creamer, grounds, egg shell ground up in planting, Epsom salt every month. There ar