What Are Tomato “Suckers” And Should They Be Pinched?

This week’s “Ask the Farm Girl” question comes to us from Vanessa. She wants to know “How do you identify the ‘suckers’ to pinch off tomato plants and why are they pinched off?” Oh Vanessa my dear… the identifying is easy….. the why, well you just opened a gardening can of worms! Depending on who you talk to you will get different answers on why you should or should not pinch your suckers. So first I’ll give you the pros and cons of pinching and let you decide if you will pinch or not. Then I will show you where those little suckers grow!

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A “sucker” is a growth, aka another leafy appendage, that a tomato plant grows in order to fulfill its goal, which is to produce tomatoes that carry seeds in order to perpetuate life. Like the original branches of your tomato plant, suckers will grow and flower and produce fruit. So why is that a bad thing? Some say it is and some say it’s not.

First you need to know why type of tomatoes you are growing. Determinate tomatoes (like Roma) grow to a fixed size and fruit all at once. So honestly there is no point in pinching a determinate tomato plant. Indeterminate tomatoes (which include the majority of tomatoes including heirloom varieties) continue to grow all season and produce fruit all season. Indeterminate are “vining” type plants and thus must be either support with cages or trellises. The indeterminate tomatoes are the ones folks “pinch.” But why???

Some folks say that suckers compete with the main plant for nutrients, water, space and light. The feeling is that if they let the suckers mature, it will result in the production of smaller fruit and a lower yields. Not to mention all the added physical support the plant will need to have to hold up all the weight from those extra branches. The more suckers you let grow, the more top heavy your plant becomes, causing it to fall over and possible snap.

Other folks say suckers are no big deal and that cutting them off (especially if they are the size of a pencil or thicker) can send the plant into shock and even kill it. The contention is, if they got that big, why bother pinching or cutting them off. The feeling is that if you didn’t notice them till they got to that size, leave them be and enjoy the fruit they will produce.

So know that you know why some folks do or don’t pinch, I’ll show you where to find those suckers, if you wish to pinch. (You can only really pinch them off when they are small. If they get bigger you are pruning.) The “offending appendage” is located growing in that little “V” shaped area of your tomato plant where the branches meet the main vertical stalk of the plant. Being as our tomato plants are still young and as of yet we have no suckers, I have included a photo showing where they will grow later in the season.

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Now here is a neat thing you may or may not know about those sucker that you pinch/cut off…….. if you stick them in the ground, they will grow roots!! That’s right, a new plant with more tomatoes!!! So if you do decide to pinch and the sucker is on the larger size, pop that bad boy in the ground!!

*** If you have a question for the Farm Girl (that’s me!!) on homesteading, life, love, what color underwear you should wear, heck anything, serious or silly, feel free to email it to [email protected] with the subject “advice.” I am an open book, and while you may or may not always like the answer you get, I hope you will at least walk away with a giggle or two. ***

37 thoughts on “What Are Tomato “Suckers” And Should They Be Pinched?

  1. A few years back I had a tomato plant snap at the main stem about 3 inches above the ground. I got some good soil and packed it up about 2 inches above the break. The tomato plant rerooted there and continued to grow into a 6 foot monster of a plant. So if your main stem breaks, not all is lost. Just thought I would share that seeings we are on tomato topic…. Thanks and happy gardening

  2. It's been years since I've had tomato plants but I was actually thinking of planting some in the backyard this summer… This is great to know (I really had no idea that tomato suckers existed!). Thanks for the great gardening tips, always!!

  3. Good to know they reroot. Last year I just tossed them in the compost.

  4. Great post. I was JUST contemplating this yesterday and decided to pinch off two sort of sad looking yellowing suckers but I left the rest bc I felt bad ripping them offf. I shall leave them. Lisa

  5. My husband is about to read this. He thinks he's the tomato king (he's not). I think this will help him this summer!!

  6. My Granddad always pinched out the suckers so that's what I do! Just the smell of tomato plants makes me think of him, in his greenhouse all summer just pottering about, growing bucket loads of fruit and veg for my Nan to make into chutneys and jams.

  7. This will definitely help me, this will be the 3rd year I am growing tomatoes, I grow them in containers on my back patio (Gotta Love Apartment living) Last year was a disaster as I think all summer we had a total of maybe 1 week where we didn't get rain, my garden was more like a swamp in a bucket. Anyway the 1st year I did ok with my tomatoes but nothing to write home about, going to watch for those little suckers and see if pinching will help me this year

    1. Way to garden! I love hearing about folks who don't let their living space limit them. Happy pinching!

  8. I never realized they grew differently. I usually only grow roma and cherry varieties, so I will probably not pinch mine. Thanks

  9. Thanks for the valuable information. I had never taken the suckers off but it interesting to know that if you do you can plant them- that would be a great way to get more tomato plants & tomatoes. Thanks for sharing. Visiting from Home Acre Blog Hop! Will share on google & pinterest.

  10. Great post! Removing suckers is something I do when the plants are younger and just getting started. I try to limit the extra sucker growth early on but I don't worry much about it later.

  11. Wow, I had never even heard of "suckers" before! I am going to go out right now to inspect my tomato plant now! =) Thanks for the informative post!

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  12. I can barely keep up with gardening chores as it is. "Pinching" seems like one more project so I'll probably let the grow. That whole "re-rooting" thing is good to know, though. I never heard that before!

  13. I'm pinning this to the MHM group board! Thanks for sharing on Mostly Homemade Mondays! Be sure to stop over tomorrow and link up a few more posts 🙂

    Kelli @ The Sustainable Couple

  14. Wow! Great information here on the tomato plant. I had no idea about the pinching off the suckers or putting them in the ground. I am growing some on an aeroponic tower garden this year; we'll see how it goes. Thanks for linking up to Creative Ways!

  15. I am planning on pinching half and leaving half alone. Maybe I can figure out what works best in my situation once and for all. Thank you so much for sharing on Green Thumb Thursday. I hope you swing by and share more great content today.

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