The topic of removing the tips of tomato plants, aka tomato topping, often sparks a lively debate among gardeners. Some claim that it’s highly beneficial while others question its necessity.
So, to top or not to top? Even though it isn’t a must, there are some good reasons to top your tomato plants. I’ll go through each of them and also show you some drawbacks.
If you decide to employ it, I’ll show you when and how to do it step by step.
Let’s get started!
1. To Boost Growth
The first reason to top your tomatoes is to promote the development of branches and the production of a more robust central stem. This is typically done once your tomatoes start displaying more new growth (beginning of the growing season).
Once a new stem occurs, it’ll be less susceptible to wind damage. When your tomato plant starts producing fruit, the stem will be strong enough not to break under their weight.
These veggies can get leggy over time, so topping can help them fight this problem and encourage them to generate more robust growth as the season progresses.
2. Encourage Flower Production
It’s completely normal for your tomato plant to focus its energy and grow upwards. However, this can become a problem in terms of flowering.
If your tomato spends too much energy on sending growth upwards, the flower production on the lower part of the stem significantly decreases.
Once the flowering season begins and you notice a smaller number of flowers on the stem, topping can help you fix the problem. It will encourage your tomato to focus all its energy on flower production.
As a result, you’ll get a better yield.
3. Growth Control
As someone who has been growing tomatoes for a really long time, I can tell you that these veggies can get out of control in the middle and end of the season.
They keep growing and growing, which is a good thing until strong wind occurs or the fruit becomes too heavy. Cages and stakes don’t work once the tomato plant overgrows them.
As a result, the stems can break and the yield is endangered.
Topping can help you with this issue. We mentioned this as the first reason, but recommended doing it at the beginning of the season.
If there isn’t a need to top your tomatoes early, you can also do it in mid or even late season to get excellent results.
4. Enhance Fruit Production
If the end of the season is approaching with the first frost, any growth remaining on these plants in terms of blossoms or formed fruits needs to be encouraged to develop into fruit or ripen ASAP.
Luckily, there’s a way to do it, and it’s topping. Once you top your tomatoes, all the energy will go to fruit production and ripening instead of producing more foliage and branches.
5. For Better Air Circulation And Ventilation
If we want to get more tomatoes, one of the best ways is to prune them. Another reason we prune our plants is because we want to enhance air circulation. If there’s not enough air between the leaves and branches, some diseases may develop.
So, disease prevention is one more reason why topping these plants is a good idea. Additionally, fewer branches and leaves means more light, and more light means faster ripening. So, it’s a win-win situation!
Disadvantages Of Topping Tomato Plants
If it’s so good, then why doesn’t everyone employ this technique? Well, there are also some reasons not to do it.
The first disadvantage of topping is that it can stunt the growth of the main stem. This mainly occurs in the case of determinate varieties. As you may know, these varieties don’t need pruning at all.
So, before you start topping, you need to know the variety of your tomato.
Another reason not to top tomatoes is that it takes too much time. When I say too much, I really mean it. These veggies can be demanding when it comes to maintenance, so no one wants to do even more.
Be careful with fungal diseases because each time we cut off a plant part, we create a wound. This is why it’s best to prune in the early afternoon to allow the wounds to dry fast.
If you decide on topping these veggies, here’s when to do it.
When To Top
The best time to top tomatoes depends on the variety and why you’re topping in the first place.
Topping Determinate Varieties
If you have determinate tomatoes, topping isn’t a good idea except at the end of the season when we want to encourage fruit formation and ripening before the temperatures drop.
Remember, topping determinate varieties in the early or mid-season can inhibit growth and limit harvest.
Topping Indeterminate Varieties
When it comes to indeterminate tomatoes, there’s no specific time to top them and you can do it all season, depending on the reason for topping.
For instance, if you want to enhance growth and prevent legginess, you should top at the beginning of the growing season.
If you want to control growth and prevent tomato stems from breaking, top your tomato plants in the middle part of the season.
Lastly, top your indeterminate tomatoes at the end of the season if you want to encourage fruit formation and ripening, just as you would with determinate varieties.
Now that you know why and when to top tomatoes, let’s find out how to do it!
How To Top
I believe that the hardest part of the topping technique is actually making the decision to top or not. I’m not kidding, this technique doesn’t require any special skill; simply follow the steps below and you won’t have any problems.
Regarding equipment, you only need a pair of sharp and clean pruning shears. To avoid contamination, dip the shears in sanitizing solution such as bleach or rubbing alcohol.
Let’s look at the steps.
1. The first thing you need to do when you start topping is select the main stem.
2. Now make a clean incision above the leaf node; that’s the part of your tomato where the leaf meets the stem. The benefit of leaving a node on the stem is to ensure stronger growth.
3. If you are topping late in the season, select the part above the best-performing tomatoes and cut it. Make sure you don’t over-prune, and leave some growth to protect the fruit from harsh sun rays.
Remember when I said that topping is time-consuming? Well, you’ll most likely need to top every week or two because your tomatoes will display new growth all the time.
But don’t let this discourage you, your compost pile will appreciate it if you add all the tomato cuttings. Additionally, you can propagate tomato cuttings by putting them in water and allowing them to root.
The more, the better!