You may hear people talk about topping tomatoes, but what is this?
Topping the plant is when you remove the growing tip late in the season. You simply snip the whole top section of the plant out so it will no longer grow upwards.
Why Do We Do This?
Well, as it actually happens, I don’t do this, but many other growers do. So let’s talk about the pros and cons.
Your tomato plant will keep on growing until colder weather comes in and kills it off. Any unripe tomatoes that are still on the plant at this point will need to be harvested while they are still green.
Topping the plant stops it from putting its energy into growing upwards and instead into developing all of the fruit already on the plant.
The tradeoff is that you won’t get any more tomatoes by topping the plant. But the ones on the plant already will be bigger and more likely to ripen fully.
By letting the plant continue to grow, you will get more tomatoes but are much more likely to end up with a bunch of unripe green tomatoes.
How many more tomatoes you get depends on the weather at the back end of the season, and is a guessing game.
Green tomatoes can still be used and make great chutneys, among other things, which is why I just let my plants grow and then harvest all the green tomatoes once the plant has died.
How to top a tomato
The process is really simple; just snip out the growth point at the top of the plant.
Once this is removed, the plant will stop growing vertically.
If you decide to do what I do and not top your toms, then what do you do when they reach the ceiling of your greenhouse or polytunnel?
Well, that is where one big advantage of growing tomatoes up string comes into play. You can lower the whole plant down.
This is actually what commercial growers do as their plants grow.
You gradually lower the whole plant and have the bottom of the stem almost horizontal along the floor, with the rest of the plant growing vertically.
You can see it happening on the right-hand side of the image above.
The tension is slowly removed from the string, allowing the stems to sag down and bend over.
This gives you more growing room at the top and allows you to continue to grow your tomatoes vertically and harvest from the top of the plant.
For this to work well, all the foliage must be removed from the bottom of the plant, and any fruit growing there should have already ripened and harvested.
There are even special hooks that are designed just for this purpose, have a look below.
Removing Lower Leaves
For this to work, you need to remove the lower leaves on your plant; here’s how to go about that.
The lower leaves on your plant aren’t doing much anymore. Almost all of the photosynthesis happens in the young, new leaves near the top of the plant.
By tidying them up and removing the older leaves, we allow more light in at the bottom of the plant; this is important if we are growing close together or have another crop like basil growing underneath our tomatoes.
The leaves also suck up a lot of water but don’t actually do much for the plant. By removing the lower leaves, we reduce the amount of water your plant needs.
This means it can go longer without watering and is also less prone to blossom end rot.
Removing the lower leaves also increases airflow around the plant, minimising the risk of fungal infections.
Another added benefit is that it helps to make spotting pests on your plant much easier.
How To Get Your Flowers To Turn To Fruit
If you want to maximise your tomato harvest, you must get all the flowers to pollinate and turn to fruit.
I have a great article you can find here that shows you step-by-step what you need to be doing.