how to top a tomato plant
Topping a tomato plant – why do it? And what is topping a tomato plant anyway? Sit back, relax and read the how and the why of topping your tomatoes. Then, you can see a video on how to top, and a surprise I had for a plant.
Topping a Tomato Plant — What is It?
Quite literally it’s taking off the growing point…which usually happens to be at the top of the plant. Depending on how you prune it (or not), your tomato plant can have more than one growing point. If you have pruned your plant to just one stem, you only have to take off one growing point.
However, if your tomato plant has more than one stem, you will have more than one growth point. You can choose to top just the tallest, top them all, or anything in between.
Important: You only want to top an indeterminate tomato plant; do not top a determinate — you will sacrifice a lot of your tomatoes if you do it.
Check this post where I talk about the difference between indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.
Why Top a Tomato Plant?
OK, so why would you want to top your plant? There are a few reasons to do it.
Stop the upward growth. Sometimes you have a plant that just keep growing taller and taller, to the point of being unmanageable. If you top the plant, it won’t grow any taller (although it might grow wider).
Ripen existing tomatoes faster. If the tomato isn’t focusing on growing taller, it can direct that energy towards ripening existing fruit. This can be especially useful towards the end of the growing season, when the threat of frost is getting near and your fruit isn’t close enough to ripe yet.
Rejuvenate a stressed tomato plant. I discovered that topping a tomato plant can help to rejuvenate a plant that got too stressed and looks sad. Now I’m not talking about a diseased plant, but one that has been environmentally stressed (too much or too little sun/water/fertilizer/heat). The tomato plant won’t grow upwards from where you topped it, but it can develop suckers lower down that are healthier. That is, assuming you’ve addressed what was stressing your plant.
Encourage larger tomatoes. This one is kind of controversial; some people say it doesn’t help but others swear by it. The idea behind it is if you top the plant, it’s going to direct its energy towards the fruit. If it’s around the middle of your season, the existing tomatoes (and any that are still forming from flowers) have the chance to grow larger than they normally would grow.
A Topping Surprise
I also had something interesting happen to a stressed plant. It had a truss with two tomatoes and what looked like some aborted flowers. The plant was looking so scrawny that I wanted to give it a chance to ripen the two tomatoes it had. Now mind you, the two fruits it had on the truss had been growing (slowly) for a couple of weeks, and it was just the two ‘maters. It was still pretty early in the season so I figured I had nothing to lose.
I topped the plant and waited to see what would happen. I also took off most of the stressed branches except for two or three (for future comparison).
Within a few days, there were new suckers forming lower down on the plant which looked healthier. The following week brought me a huge surprise.
The truss with just the two tomatoes (and what looked like aborted blossoms) had new tomatoes forming! Where once there were two, there were now five! I totally had not expected that to happen.
How to Top a Tomato Plant – Video
In this video I’ll show you how to top your tomato plant. I’ll also show you a “before” and “after” of my topped tomato plant which gave me some surprise tomatoes. I hope you enjoy it! You can also check out my YouTube channel for more garden videos.