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Topping Tomato Plants – A Helpful Guide

Tomatoes are a fun and versatile fruit that many people love to grow. Several techniques are known for making your tomato plants healthier and producing bigger and juicer fruit. Some techniques help with multiple aspects of growing the tomato plant. If you are new to tomato growing or you are trying to grow better tomatoes this season, you have most likely heard of or come across the idea of topping. Now, you are probably curious and asking, what is topping your tomato plants?

Topping tomatoes is simply cutting off the top portion of your tomato plants. Tomato plants will continue to grow and may eventually lengthen to above your cage, stakes, or supports. By cutting off the top portion of your plants, energy will be redirected to other areas, making your tomato plants stronger and healthier. Many experienced gardeners strongly recommend this technique. 

If you like what you are reading, then continue on. This article will go into great depth about the method of topping and how to do it correctly. 

Should I Top My Tomato Plants?

Yes, you should most definitely top your tomato plants. The method of topping is easy and benefits your tomato plants greatly.

Not only will the branches be sturdier and stronger, but they will produce bigger and tastier fruit. Topping takes the energy away from parts of the plant that don’t need it as much and then directs it into making the plant more full. It is a technique that should not be overlooked.

Benefits To Topping Tomato Plants

  • It produces bigger and better fruit- As mentioned above, topping removes portions of the plants that energy doesn’t need to be directed towards. Instead of using the energy to grow the plants taller and bigger, topping directs the energy into making the fruit bigger, juicer, and tastier. 
  • It makes the plants stronger- As tomato plants grow larger, the branches tend to be weak and thin. After cutting back excessive growth, the branches will eventually grow back again. This time, they will be thick, strong, and sturdy. 
  • They will fit better in your supports- When tomato plants get too tall, they outgrow their cages for stakes. Topping them will prevent you from buying larger supports that are more suited to taller plants. If you don’t need to spend more money, then you shouldn’t. Topping them to make them fuller and stronger is better anyways. 
  • Increased amount of flowering- When a tomato plant is less focused on growing upwards, it will produce more flowers on the lower portions of it. Flowers mark where a tomato will grow, so if you notice a small number of flowers around the blooming period, you can quickly top your tomato plant to instantly direct the energy towards growing more. Overall this will yield a larger quantity of tomatoes. 

When To Top Tomato Plants

There are different topping methods for indeterminate tomato varieties versus determinant ones. 

Indeterminate tomatoes will continue growing for the entire season and should be topped several times. Topping them initially will allow them to grow fuller and stronger instead of tall and weak. Topping early will prepare them for the growing season and encourage more fruit growth.

It is also essential to top mid-season. Doing so will control tomato plants that are beginning to outgrow their cages or supports and direct energy to fruits that are beginning to develop.

It will make them larger and better in taste. Lastly, topping at the end of the season will help grow and ripen the last few tomatoes left on the plant. It’s a good way to ensure you are getting the most out of the entire season and will ensure your plants will produce tomatoes up until the very end. 

Determinate tomatoes reach and point where they won’t grow anymore. They are typically more bush-like and won’t grow very tall. That is how they differ from indeterminate tomatoes.

Determinate tomatoes don’t need to be topped throughout the season. Instead, they only need to be topped at the very end. Just like mentioned for indeterminate varieties, determinate ones will be able to produce their last fruits of the season in a better manner if they are properly topped first.

At the end of the season, the plant’s energy needs to be redirected towards the last tomatoes left on vines to ensure you get the most out of it, meaning a bigger and better harvest. 

How To Top Tomato Plants

  1. Determine the correct time to top your tomato plants. Typically a good sign is that they are outgrowing their cage or supports. Another indicator might be that there are lots of limbs but not a ton of flowers. If you’ve noticed that your tomato plants aren’t growing the best-looking or tasting tomatoes, that may also be a sign that you need to redirect the energy through topping to better your next harvest. If you decide when to top your determinate tomato plants, remember you have to wait until the end of the season. 
  2. Make sure you have the proper equipment. Small clippers or shears are ideal. Make sure that your tools are cleaned and sanitized. If they previously touched a diseased plant, it could spread to your tomato plants. Soak them in a 5% bleach solution to ensure they won’t be contaminated with anything. 
  3. Determine the right location to clip. Focus on the area directly above your cage or supports at the point where your plants are outgrowing them. Identify the thickest stem, right in the center of the plant. Grab the stem and carefully cut it above the last leaf node. Make sure not to damage the leaf node, as your plants will begin to grow back sturdier from that spot on. If topping later in the season when your fruit is already ripe, pick the tomatoes from the vine and clip the areas that already produced fruit. Be careful to leave enough leaves and foliage to protect your unripe tomatoes from too much sunlight or sun damage. 
  4. Repeat this process consistently. You will find that you need to top your tomatoes every 1-2 weeks once they outgrow their support again. After topping the first time, they will grow faster and stronger and will need to be maintained. Make it a regular part of your gardening routine. 

Final Thoughts

Tomatoes need to be cared for and maintained, just like many crops in the garden. Topping is a pretty simple technique that you don’t have to be a professional gardener to figure out. It guides you to take full advantage of your tomato plants and all they offer.

It redirects the growing energy to focus mainly on producing the biggest, juiciest, and best-tasting tomatoes. That is the ultimate goal of growing tomatoes, right? To reap a large and yummy harvest. If you haven’t tried topping your tomato plants, incorporate it into your gardening routine right now.

When you go out into your garden to water or weed, bring shears or clippers and check to see if your tomato plants have outgrown their supports and need topping. It will eventually become second nature, and it will be worth it. You won’t regret adding this simple step to your gardening regimen.