Prune Fresh Market Tomatoes (field, high tunnel): Yes or No?

Growers and others continue to discuss and ask questions about the pros and cons of pruning fresh market tomato plants in field and high tunnel plantings. Some growers expect to prune and plan for the process while others decide long before planting that they will not prune. For others, the decision is less clear. Regardless, genetic, market, and other factors affect the decision.

Major Factors Affecting the Decision to Prune
1. Variety type (determinate, semi-determinate, indeterminate). Overall, determinate varieties require the least amount of pruning and indeterminate varieties the greatest amount with semi-determinate varieties potentially benefitting from a moderate amount. Whether grafted plants are used, and the effects of the rootstock can also influence if the grower may benefit from pruning them.
2. Variety-specific characteristics. Varieties within each major type differ in how they respond to pruning. Consult reliable sources and use experience to determine if and how much each variety being grown should be pruned.
3. Market price and expectations. Typical market prices and expectations of fruit quality may steer growers to prune or to not prune individual varieties and/or plantings.
4. Pruning process requirements (e.g., time, cost, expertise, materials). Pruning is recommended for some varieties and in some situations. However, if pruning is done incorrectly (wrong time, wrong method), it can result in undesirable outcomes.

Potential benefits and drawbacks associated with pruning field- or high tunnel-grown fresh market tomato plants.

Potential Benefits
• Can enhance earliness
• Can increase fruit quality (e.g., size, shape)
• Can reduce some disease pressure
• Can enhance coverage of protective sprays
Potential Drawbacks
• Adds cost (time, labor) and requires care
• Can spread disease
• Can reduce fruit quality
• Timing is key (crop stage and when foliage is dry)

Fresh market tomato plantings in Ohio differ significantly in size, market, growing environment (field, high tunnel), production system (e.g., organic, not organic), varieties used, and other characteristics. A small-scale test comparing pruned and unpruned plots will help reveal if your current approach is ideal.

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