Now and then, even the most experienced gardeners cut the top off a tomato plant, thinking it’s a sucker. Other times, the top breaks off due to bad weather, rough handling, and improper trellising. That raises the question, can a tomato plant survive after cutting the top off?
A tomato plant can survive after cutting the top off. Even if you cut a large part of the top, the plant will direct its energy to another sucker and make it the main stem. However, that depends on whether the tomato plant is determinate or indeterminate.
If your tomato plant has grown too tall or you’ve accidentally broken the top off, come along as I discuss what you can do to salvage the situation.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomato Plants
There are two kinds of tomato plants: indeterminate and determinate. These varieties respond differently to topping.
Determinate Tomato Plants Don’t Need Any Pruning
Determinate tomato plants are bushy and don’t require any pruning throughout their lifetime. The plants don’t grow past 3 or 4 feet (0.91 or 1.22 m) tall, and the fruits all ripen within a 2–3 week period. Pruning the suckers or topping determinate tomato plants will harm them and affect your harvest.
If you cut the top off a determinate tomato plant, it’ll use its energy to ripen the mature tomatoes and then start withering.
Examples of determinate tomatoes include:
Indeterminate Tomato Plants Never Stop Growing
On the other hand, indeterminate tomato plants grow to an unlimited height and continue to produce stems all over, weakening the plant. For this reason, this type of tomato plant needs to be pruned regularly and topped to stop it from growing too tall.
Cutting the top of an indeterminate plant makes it thrive even more.
Examples of indeterminate tomatoes include:
- Most Cherry-types
Benefits of Topping a Tomato Plant
For the beginners in tomato farming, cutting the top off a plant is also known as ‘topping,’ so that’s what I’ll refer to it going forward.
Before you cut the top off a tomato plant, make sure you know whether it’s a determinate or an indeterminate plant. There are many benefits to cutting the top off intentionally if it’s the latter.
The Tomato Plant Will Grow Fuller and Stronger
The first benefit of topping a tomato plant is strength. When you cut the top off, you allow the plant to redirect its energy to producing fuller stems and grow stronger instead of taller. Like cutting down a tomato plant to the ground, the regrowth is stronger and better than the original plant.
Sometimes, people top tomato plants if the vines look heat-stressed or straggly. Cutting off the vines and the entire top will give way to a new growth that’ll be healthier and more vigorous.
Speaking of strength, stopping a tomato plant from growing too tall means it’ll be harder to break.
You’ll Get Larger and Sweeter Fruits
Again, topping the plant redirects the energy to things that matter, like producing more and larger tomatoes. The side branches produced will thrive and produce more harvest for you.
Experienced farmers also claim that topping makes the tomatoes sweeter because all the sugar is directed to them.
It’s Easier To Stake Topped Plants
If you’ve ever tried to stake a tall tomato plant, you know what a hustle it can be. Cutting the top off makes this process easy. After all, where will you find a stake long enough to accommodate the magic tomato stalk?
And because the plant is shorter, it can withstand wind and other elements better than a tall plant.
Topping Helps Tomatoes Ripen Faster
If winter is coming and some of your tomatoes are still tiny or unripened, the best way to speed the process is to top off the plant.
When you cut off the plant’s top stalk, it sends all its energy to ripen the fruits instead of growing new foliage or height. Be careful, however, that you don’t do this too close to winter because a fresh wound is a great entryway for diseases that come with winter.
What To Do After Cutting the Top Off a Tomato Plant
So, now you know about the benefits of topping tomato plants. But whether you’ve intentionally or accidentally cut the top of your plants, there are some things you need to do to make the most of your topping. These are:
- Determine what the new main stem will be.
- Embark on a stress recovery process.
- Don’t waste the toppings.
Show the Plant What the Main Stem Is
One of the most important steps after topping is to show the plant which the new main stem is. Ideally, you should prune a tomato plant to have several stems growing with it as it grows taller. In the event that the main stem is cut off or broken, one of those stems will take over and become the main stem.
Interestingly, because the stems grow facing sideways instead of upwards, your plant will stop growing vertically, and that’s why topping an indeterminate plant is so important. You can stake this new branch and redirect it where you want.
Here’s a YouTube video that practically demonstrates this point:
Embark on a Stress Recovery Process
If a big part of the stem broke off, your tomato plant might go into shock for a while. It’ll present as drooping branches, rolled leaves, and an abrupt stop to fruit production or growth.
However, the secret is hydration. Water the soil generously after fertilizing and keep the roots moist at all times. When the stems and leaves stand upright again, you can taper off the watering and return to regular care.
Don’t Waste the Toppings
When asked why they don’t like topping tomato plants, most people said they find it wasteful. That’s because topping tomato plants means wasting a perfectly good part of the plant—furthermore, the good part usually has tomatoes and flowers on it.
You don’t have to worry about wastage, though. Instead of throwing away the top, you can plant it in your garden as a new plant. Keep the soil moist, fertilize and give it time to grow some roots and become a plant.
Some tomatoes and flowers may wither and die during this process, but some will survive especially the almost mature ones.
Alternatively, you can put the cutting in a container. Add some soil, water, and fertilizer to a container and plant your cutting. You can keep this or give it to a friend who’d like to do backyard gardening.
How To Top a Tomato Plant
If you’re going to top off your tomato plant, it’s important to know how to do it right. You can’t just pick a point on the main stem and cut it. Doing that can traumatize your plant, requiring you to take stress recovery measures.
Let’s go through this simple guide on how to top off your tomato plant properly.
Cut the Plant Where It Grows Past the Support System
Wait until the tomato plant has reached the top of your stake or cage. You can then cut the part that’s surpassing the stake using shears.
Cut a ¼ inch (0.64 cm) above a side shoot, so you have something to stand in as the new stem.
Alternatively, you can check where the fruits are and cut above that. However, if you use this method, know that tomatoes need foliage to protect them from the sun and other elements. That means you must leave some leaves or branches above them.
Consider the Weather
Count 21 to 30 days backward from the first frost date to determine whether you should snap off that stem. Tomatoes stop growing or producing during the cold weather; they also become more prone to diseases.
Moreover, that wound you leave behind after cutting is the perfect entryway to diseases, so you should ensure it heals before frost checks in.
As for the suckers you’ll plant on the ground/pot, give them 2 to 3 months to grow roots and become mature enough to withstand the cold. Otherwise, the cold will destroy any hope of becoming new plants.
Support the New Stem
It’s important to remember that the new stem isn’t as strong as the main stem was. Therefore, you need to support it well until it becomes strong enough.
It’s even more critical when your plant has fruits that weigh the stem down. Staking is one of the ways you can support the new stem.
Cut the Top Weekly
Topping a tomato plant can help it thrive more than ever if done properly. Know also that it’s not a one-time thing, and you have to keep doing it to see results and stop the plant from getting too tall.
A rule of thumb is to cut the top every week because it’ll keep shooting. You want to stop this as soon as it happens so the plant can send energy to the lateral stems and not back to the top.
Also, you have to keep pruning the diseased leaves on the lower parts of the plant and pruning all those unwanted branches shooting on the stem.
As discussed, a tomato plant won’t only survive after cutting off the top but will also thrive. Professionals recommend you do this often, but only if dealing with indeterminate tomatoes.
But whether you’ve topped your tomato plant intentionally or by accident, the trick is to keep a close eye on the plant and make sure it’s getting enough water, sunlight, and nutrients to recover.
Keep an eye on any discolored leaves and pests that may attack your plant and take care of them immediately.
Called "topping," this type of pruning causes the plant to stop flowering and setting new fruit, and instead directs all sugars to the remaining fruit. This way, the fruit will ripen faster, plus it becomes more likely that the green tomatoes you pick before frost will actually ripen when you bring them indoors.Will a tomato plant grow back if I cut it? ›
Will tomato plants regrow after being cut to the ground? No, tomato plants will not regrow if you cut them back to the ground. They may sprout a few new leaves, depending on how much of a stump is left, but even then they likely won't have enough time to grow and produce fruit before frost sets in.Can you replant the top of a tomato plant? ›
Yes, you can cut the top off a tomato plant and replant it, but it is not the most effective way to propagate tomatoes. While it is possible to root the cut-off top of a tomato plant, it's not a standard method of propagation for tomatoes, and it may not necessarily result in a healthy new plant.How tall should you let your tomato plants grow? ›
When the plant reaches the desired height–usually no taller than its support, 4 or 5 feet is good–consistently pinch out all new growing tips. In a week or so time, the plant will quit trying to put out new growth at the topmost part of the plant and concentrate on new growth and fruit below.Can you cut the top off an indeterminate tomato? ›
Indeterminate tomatoes can be topped throughout the season as needed as they will continue to grow back. At the beginning of the season, top indeterminate tomatoes to improve growth or prevent leggy stems before fruit set.Can you top leggy tomato plants? ›
If you have leggy tomato seedlings, the best way to correct them is to repot the seedlings (or transplant them) and bury the stems up to the lowest set of leaves. Not only will this fix any problems with legginess, it's a recommended practice to strengthen tomato stems and help their roots form more mass.How long does it take for a tomato cutting to root? ›
It usually takes between 10 and 14 days for your tomato sucker's roots to start developing. Leave the cutting in the glass for a little longer to let the roots lengthen for a strong start. Once they are about an inch long, they are ready to be transplanted out into the garden.How do you keep tomato plants from getting too tall? ›
ANSWER: You can prevent your tomatoes from growing too tall by pruning them. Pruning also encourages the plant to grow fruits instead of creating more foliage. Always use clean, sterilized shears when you prune to avoid spreading disease in your garden.Why are my tomato plants big but no tomatoes? ›
Without proper sunlight, the tomato plant will have leggy and spindly growth and little or no fruits. To produce tomatoes the plant requires energy which they receive from sunlight. Therefore, place your plant where it will receive enough sunlight to produce juicy and plumpy tomatoes.
If you're wondering how to increase flowering in tomatoes, try increasing how much light they receive. Tomatoes need eight hours of daylight to flower. Sunlight gives your tomato plants the energy to produce fruit, so if your plant doesn't have enough sunlight, you're less likely to see tomatoes fruiting.
When is the time to stop off tomatoes? In around August / September, (depending on where you garden in the country and the growing season,) it is necessary to "stop off" the tomato plants. This means pinching out the growing tips at the top of the plant and stop the plant growing up any further.Should you pinch off the top of tomato plants? ›
Pinching out your tomatoes is an essential part of tomato plant care. The reason for this is the tomato plant is a naturally bushy plant, and if you let it grow as it wants to, it will put all of its focus into growing foliage at the expense of fruit.How do you know if your tomato plant is dying? ›
“Some of the signs that a tomato plant is dying are browning or yellow leaves that curl up, reduction in flowering and fruit set, and slow development of new vegetation. If you see these signs, it might be time to let your plant go.Will tomato clippings grow roots? ›
Even if you've never tried propagating plants with cuttings before, you're practically guaranteed success. Tomato cuttings are such incredibly easy rooters, they will even root in a cup of water. That being said, the plants are stronger if they are rooted in soil.Do tomato plants get watered everyday? ›
Water newly planted tomatoes well to make sure soil is moist and ideal for growing. Early in the growing season, watering plants daily in the morning. As temperatures increase, you might need to water tomato plants twice a day. Garden tomatoes typically require 1-2 inches of water a week.Do you stop watering tomatoes when they fruit? ›
Tomatoes taste great with reduced irrigation. The secret is to keep plants well watered as they establish then reduce watering once the fruits start to ripen.Is it better to overwater or underwater tomato plants? ›
If you never saw wilting leaves and are watering regularly, you may be overwatering. Too much water in soil reduces oxygen availability to plant roots, stresses plants, may prevent uptake of nutrients, and encourages soil-borne diseases.Can you put cuttings straight into soil? ›
You can put cuttings straight into soil as long as you have prepared them correctly. 'Cut under a node at the bottom and above a node at the top,' says Chick-Seward. You must also remove the lower leaves, leaving only two or three at the top.How long does it take for a tomato plant to be fully grown? ›
Depending on the variety—early-, mid-, or late-season—and local weather conditions, Tomatoes take 50 to more than 80 days to grow from seedling to harvest. Consider early- or mid-season cultivars if you live in a USDA Zone with a relatively short growing season.Is honey a rooting hormone? ›
The reason honey works well as a natural rooting hormone is because it has anti-bacterial and anti-fungal properties. Honey protects the cuttings from pathogens and allows the natural rooting hormones in the cutting to stimulate root growth.
- Prune it, cutting off any bits you don't want.
- Move it into a spot with lower light.
- Divide it, if it's a plant that divides well.
- Move it somewhere more suitable.
- Send it to a new home.
Removing more than one-third of the foliage at a time can do more than burn the fruit; it can result in the plant dying. Instead, prune them lightly after they finish setting fruit to keep the plants smaller and encourage new growth, which leads to more flowering and fruiting.Why do my tomato plants grow so tall? ›
Tomato plants can grow too tall due to insufficient light, over-fertilization, plant variety, lack of pruning or training, high temperatures, and crowded growing conditions.Does topping stunt growth? ›
Topping causes intense stress, which causes stunted growth for some time following the cut. This needs to be compensated for with an extended veg time. In situations where growers cannot manually control flowering time (i.e. outdoors), this may affect a plant's size, and potentially its yield too.What if my plant is too tall in veg? ›
As stated, the longer you veg the plant, the taller it will grow. So switch it at the right time. If it does get too big, top it, let it recover, and then switch it to flowering. You have a lot of room to play around while you're still in the vegetative stage.Can you slow down plant growth? ›
Excess growth can be slowed by growing crops cooler with increased spacing and using less water, a term called growing “harder.” If space allows, increase plant spacing and if crops can take colder temperatures in the 60º F range, you may want to consider this approach.What should you not cut back on tomato plants? ›
Never prune away so much foliage that you reduce the amount of leaves on the plant by more than one-third. While tomatoes do need plenty of sunlight to grow and set fruit, overly intense sun and heat can lead to scalded tomatoes.What happens if you don't prune tomatoes? ›
If you do prune tomatoes, the plant will produce fewer flowers because of fewer suckers. Fewer flowers means fewer tomatoes. On the other hand, if your plant produces fewer tomatoes, the fruit may grow larger.Should you pull old tomato plants or till them into the ground? ›
Pull up spent tomato plants and weeds, collect dropped or “mummified” fruit, and rake the garden to remove plant remnants. Burn (see below) or discard plant materials, including roots. It may be tempting to simply till this organic matter into your garden to break down or add it to your compost pile. But beware.