What do you mean by ” pricking out tomatoes “?

Last updated on October 24th, 2023 at 07:21 pm

It is often pointed out that tomatoes should be pruned. Sometimes it is also debated whether this measure is really necessary. We will show you when and why weeding makes sense and how best to go about it.

What do you mean by ” pricking out tomatoes “?

This refers to the removal of young side shoots that grow in the leaf axils of the tomato plant. These side shoots, often called “stingy shoots”, are broken off in the process.

What do you mean by " pricking out tomatoes "?

An important reason for pricking out: the aim of growing tomatoes is often to achieve the largest possible fruit. The formation of side shoots is therefore considered a waste of energy for the plant. If many shoots were allowed to grow, a correspondingly large number of fruits would be produced – but these often do not ripen completely or remain rather small. Stubbing out or de-stubbing therefore leads to the harvesting of well-formed, tasty fruits.

What are “stingy shoots” and how often should tomatoes be pruned?

Pruning should be done regularly from June to September, as new shoots are continuously formed in the leaf axils. It is usually recommended that tomato plants are pruned once a week, especially at the beginning of the growing season.
Stingy shoot

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The strange-sounding term “miserly” refers to the old meaning of the word “miserly” in the sense of “greedy” or “avarice” in the sense of “covetousness”. In the culture of plants, the word avarice had the meaning of “side shoot” in the 18th century, for example in the case of grapevines. In the course of time, this developed into the term miserly shoot, because it was assumed that these fast-growing side shoots were particularly greedy and robbed fruit-bearing plants of too much energy.

Why are tomatoes pruned?

What do you mean by " pricking out tomatoes "?

There are several goals that are pursued by pricking out the tomatoes:

  • Larger fruits on the main shoot
  • Better exposure of the fruits
  • More air between the plants
  • Easier harvest
  • More space in the tomato house

Tomato plants do not necessarily need to be staked out. However, there are advantages to pricking out tomatoes, for example if there is little space available for the plants. Pole tomatoes are usually grown in single shoots and are guided upwards on a pole or ribbon. In this way, the available space is used well and harvesting is easier. By pricking out, no fruits grow at the end of side shoots, which could then break off because of the weight. Instead, the heavy fruits are close to the strong main shoot.

If the tomato plants have very dense foliage because of the leaves on the stingy shoots, harvesting is more difficult. Stubbing out the tomatoes is also beneficial for the health of the plants: the tightness can mean that fungi such as late blight or other pathogens have an easier time.

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Stripping tomatoes – how does it work?

The stingy shoots arise in the leaf axil, between the main shoot and the leaf base. They are very vigorous and produce many leaves. When pricking out the tomatoes, these small side shoots are best pinched off with thumb and forefinger. If the stingy shoots are still small and soft, this is very easy and can be done without damaging the main shoot of the plants.

With longer side shoots, pulling them off or trying to pinch them off can cause major injuries to the plant. These wounds do not heal as well as smaller injuries. Pathogens can easily enter the plant through these large wounds. To avoid large injuries, it is therefore better to use a sharp knife to prune tomatoes with firmer and longer shoots.

Caution: Knives can also spread infection if they have been used on infected tomato plants (blight). Cutting tools should therefore always be cleaned with alcohol and disinfected before being used again.

Which tomatoes are pruned and which are not?

Pruning is not advisable for all tomatoes. In the case of tomatoes that grow indefinitely (indeterminate), removing the stingy shoots is advantageous because they then have more energy available for flower development and fruiting.

Determinate tomato plants, on the other hand, produce terminal flowers relatively quickly, appear shrub-like and reach manageable heights. Bush tomatoes are not pruned, as strongly branched shoots are even desirable. They often bear many medium-sized fruits that ripen at the same time and can produce a good-sized harvest. Those who like to cook soup or sugo will appreciate these qualities.

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The fruit size of bush tomatoes does not need to be controlled by pruning, as there are varieties that come with small fruits anyway. Especially the varieties for the balcony are miniature in every respect. The number of fruits is the only thing that matters.

Wild tomatoes are more branched, but also indeterminate like vine tomatoes. In a favourable location, they can sometimes “shoot up” too much – the large leaf mass then impairs the light and air conditions around the plants. In this case too, sporadic pruning is advisable.


  • James Jones

    Meet James Jones, a passionate gardening writer whose words bloom with the wisdom of an experienced horticulturist. With a deep-rooted love for all things green, James has dedicated his life to sharing the art and science of gardening with the world. James's words have found their way into countless publications, and his gardening insights have inspired a new generation of green thumbs. His commitment to sustainability and environmental stewardship shines through in every article he crafts.

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