Sucker for suckers (Tomatoes)

Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady LakeApril 9, 2013

I have a question for the Tomato Gurus:

Why do I want to pinch back the suckers?

When I started my tomato plants, I gave 4 plants to my mother and kept 5 for myself. Turned out she got 4 Sweeties and I ended up with 4 Romas and 1 Sweetie (next year I'm marking my starting pots!). My mother, being old school taught by her mom, pinched back all the suckers on her plants and it's pretty obvious that her plants have mine beat in height, being about a foot taller than mine, even my Sweetie. But, I have her beat hands down in fruit size and production. All the buckets were set up the same with the same amendments and fertilizers. The only differences being that she's been pinching her suckers and for a while mine sat against my south wall and got more sun. Too much sun from the way my romas would wilt by mid-day. They now sit in a similar spot to the ones my mother has hers in, west end of the lanai where they start getting sun around 1 pm until 6 pm.

Articles about pinching say that "for a more abundant harvest you want to remove suckers", but from what I'm seeing, that doesn't appear to be very true. Each of my 'suckers' are now fruit bearing stalks. So I find myself a bit confused and asking (again):

Why do I want to pinch back the suckers?

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Traditionally, people trained indeterminate varieties to one or two vines for easy attachment to a single pole for support. It's also appropriate if you want bigger individual fruit as opposed to a larger overall yield.

I've never tested it, but the general wisdom says you will have fewer pounds of tomatoes overall if you prune out suckers (which just makes sense), and larger individual fruit (probably requires severe thinning for this to really make a difference). So, if you're trying to win a ribbon at the fair for the biggest tomato, pruning is supposed to be essential.

I've also heard farmers comment that small fruit won't sell, so it doesn't matter if they lose out on total yield.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:31AM
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whgille(FL 9b)

I am familiar with tomato growing in a lot of different places. Colder places need to take out the suckers to let the light come through. In our weather you need all the leaves that you can have because you are going to loose some with foliar diseases and age. They also shelter the fruit from the sun strong rays so we don't end up with sunscald. I don't think it has anything to do with the height or the production. I know that any fruit gets bigger when fewer are growing in the vine.


    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:33AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

Great answers. Thanks guys... or guy and gal... or gals. Well, I know one of you is a gal... but... I digress... Thank you for the answers. I will bear that in mind and will pass on the info to my mother that she doesn't need to keep pinching hers back as much as she does. Though, for her, living by her lonesome, four plants might be a bit too much tomatoes if they were left to grow as they wish. So she might actually benefit from the fewer, but larger, fruit. Though I will suggest she let more branches form to protect the fruit from the sun.

Thanks again. I knew I could depend on ya'll to set matters straight.

    Bookmark   April 9, 2013 at 11:42AM
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The big thing here is the indeterminate (think continually growing upwards) versus determinate (grows up but then just bushes out) on the tomato variety. If you do this to a determinate tomato variety you will absolutely destroy your yield as they have a much more defined period of producing fruit compared to the indeterminate varieties.

I prune indeterminate tomato plants and the flavor of the fruit compared to unpruned in the same garden, sunlight, watering and soil was actually rather remarkable. Once the plant gets to a certain size, it starts diverting some energy (specifically sugars) into flowers (eventually fruit) and more stems. If you prune off the suckers on an indeterminate plant, you leave more of that sugar production towards producing more flowers and therefore more and more flavorful fruit. If you leave the suckers on there, additional energy is needed to continue that growth and even more suckers on those branches. You will loose the potential to have more flowers, but eventually these get so full that they block out sunlight and really inhibit photosynthesis.

Perhaps try just doing both one season and see which results you like. I live in Central Fl and have not had an issue with the sun scorching my plants or fruit, but perhaps that is a concern to be worried about for you in your specific garden. You will absolutely need to stake them however, they will grow VERY tall with the proper soil and watering! GOOD LUCK!!!!

    Bookmark   April 12, 2013 at 6:07PM
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When I saw the title I thought you were a sucker for suckers like I am. I discovered last year that suckers will root in water so now if I prune a sucker(which I seldom do) I can't bear to discard it- I have to root it and find a spot for it! I'm a sucker for free little plants. Hoping to extend my harvest time too this year doing this.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 12:15AM
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Michael AKA Leekle2ManE - Zone 9a - Lady Lake

I thought about rooting some suckers, but seeing as I am pretty much the only one who really likes tomatoes in my family, I figure 5 plants will be enough to keep my happy. And keep my freezer stocked with tomato sauce.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 7:43AM
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L_in_FL(8B/9A Border, NW FL)

Afishlady, you can also root suckers in damp potting mix. Bury most of the stem in the mix and keep the mix constantly moist and in the shade for a few days, then re-acclimate the sucker to full sun gradually (over several days).

Once it can handle full sun without wilting, it's ready to plant.

    Bookmark   April 13, 2013 at 10:43AM
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