Topping Tomato Plants: The Benefits and How to Do It Correctly

What Does Topping Do for a Tomato Plant?

When the plant is topped, or pruned, you’re removing the upper portion of growth from the plant. The plant is then forced to regrow the foliage it lost, which generally grows back thicker, stronger, and healthier due to its older age.

A seedling isn’t going to grow as strong of branches or as large of leaves as an 8 week old plant; thus, this process produces a plant that is sturdier, and more likely to hold up to heavy rain, wind, and heavy fruit load.

As the end of the season nears, topping each fruiting branch will help the plant to focus energy on existing fruits; this means those fruits will be more likely to ripen ahead of the impending first frost.

When Can You Top a Tomato Plant?

If you plan to begin topping, start with 8 week old tomato seedlings. If you are selling seedlings or transplanting them into your garden, this will give the plants 2 weeks to recover.

You could also top plants that are already in your garden. If you have a plant that was overrun with weeds, then became sparse and leggy, simply cut the vine back. It will regrow quite well, producing a bushy plant full of blooms within the month.

For faster ripening fruit, top your plants 6 weeks before the first expected frost, and keep them topped thereafter. This will redirect energy to the fruits you want to ripen before the cold weather settles in for the winter.

Leggy seedlings can bend and twist like this, and can ultimately be much weaker than their shorter siblings that have received adequate light. Pruning can help; leggy seedlings are not bad seedlings!

In addition, this works well with plants that have significant damage from pests or storms, especially later in the season. It allows the plant to recover, without the added stress of trying to take care of and maintain leaves, branches, or flowering clusters that simply won’t thrive.

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