The Q&A Archives: Tomato suckers

Question: what's a sucker on tomatoes and what does it look like?

Answer: As a tomato grows, side shoots, or suckers, form in the crotches, or axils, between the leaves and the main stem. If left alone, these suckers will grow just like the main stem, producing flowers and fruit.

Suckers appear sequentially, from the bottom of the plant up. The farther up on the plant a sucker develops, the weaker it is, because the sugar concentration gets lower as you move up the plant. On the other hand, side stems arising from below the first flower cluster, although stronger, compromise the strength of the main stem. For a multi-stemmed plant, your aim is to have all stems roughly the same size, although the main stem should always be stronger, because it has to feed the entire plant for the next five or six months. Here's how I achieve this.

I keep tomatoes free of side stems below the first fruit cluster. When trained to one vine and left free-standing, tomato plants develop strong main stems. To encourage a strong stem, I remove all suckers and I don't tie plants to their supports until the first flowers appear.

Hope this answers your question!

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