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Why Aren’t My Tomato Plants Producing Tomatoes?

For many years now I have been growing my own tomatoes!  When I first started growing tomatoes I quickly noticed that there were a ton of varieties and that some varieties did better than others.  

I seemed to have better luck with certain varieties like bush tomatoes and Roma tomatoes but had no luck with others that were heirloom tomatoes, Beefmaster or Brandywine varieties.  

What was I doing wrong?  Why would some of my tomatoes grow and others would just not grow anything? So I began to research and found out a ton of information and began making some changes!  

Over the past few years I have implemented these changes and have had tremendous success ever since! Here it what you need to know!

The Difference Between Determinate and Indeterminate Tomato Plants

There are two different types of tomatoes plants, determinate tomatoes and indeterminate tomatoes.

Both variety of plants are very different and it is important to know which kind you have so you can properly care for your tomato plants.

  • Determinate Tomatoes - determinate tomatoes are tomatoes that do not require staking or pruning and do not require the removal of “suckers”(explained below).  These tomatoes are usually bush varieties and only grow about 3-4 feet and then produce their fruit.  Plants blossom and develop at the same time over a 4-6 week period of time.
  • Indeterminate Tomatoes - indeterminate tomatoes are tomatoes that grow throughout the season and usually need to be staked up and require weekly pruning or the removal of suckers (explained below). They will continue to grow and produce until a frost comes.

If you do not know which kind of plants you have in your garden don’t worry, we have a list for you right here…

How To Find Out Which Variety You Have 

As noted above, there are many different varieties of tomatoes and it is important to find out which kind you have in your garden.  Here is a list from The Henrys’ Plant Farm:   

Tomato Varieties List 

My determinate tomatoes were doing great and did not require the removal of suckers.  So the problem I was having was with indeterminate tomatoes.  

Indeterminate plants would grow nice and tall but very few tomatoes were being produced.  After doing some research I realized that I was not removing the suckers on my plants.  

Suckers??  Yes, suckers.  Let me explain.   

What Is A Sucker and What Does It Look Like

Suckers are little plants that grow off of the main stems or leaders.  They form at the “Y” of two branches like pictured  below.  

When these suckers form they strip the main plant of its nutrients and the central plant will not have the energy to produce a lot of tomatoes.  

So in an indeterminate variety, it is imperative to remove these suckers so that the main plant has the energy to produce a ton of tomatoes!

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How To Remove Suckers

Here is how you remove suckers from your indeterminate tomato plants.  You want to wait until your suckers are at least 2-3 inches in length.  

Look at the photo below.  At the “Y” you can see a sucker that is about 3 inches long.  

It is important to note that you want to remove suckers that are below a flower cluster as shown in the picture.  

Do not remove suckers above the flower clusters.  This is new growth and will produce more tomatoes, so only remove the suckers that are below flower clusters.

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Now with your fingers, follow the sucker to the base of the plant. 

Snap off the sucker at the base and discard.  

By removing the sucker off of the main plant you are allowing the central plant to have more energy to produce more blossoms or tomatoes and you will dramatically improve your production of tomatoes. 

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What To Do After You Remove The Suckers

You will need to remove your suckers on your indeterminate plant every 7-10 days.  Make sure the leaves on your tomato plants aren’t wet when removing suckers so that you aren’t spreading diseases.  

You can remove suckers any time of the day, it will not harm the plant.  Again, I want to stress, only remove suckers on indeterminate varieties and not on determinate varieties.  

Here is the Tomato Variety List once agin from The Henrys’ Plant Farm.

I hope this information is useful to you and you are able to have a ton of delicious tomatoes this year in your garden!  Happy Gardening Everyone!

Share Your Thoughts

Do you remove the suckers from your tomato plants?  What are some of your favorite varieties of tomatoes that you enjoy growing in your garden?

GRF Comment.001

22 comments
Lisa GG
Lisa GG

Great post, thanks. This year my first tomatoes had end blossom rot. I was so sad thinking that this would happen to my whole (huge) crop. I researched and decided to try to supplement some minerals. I took egg shells (calcium), banana peels (potassium) and Epsom salt (magnesium), ground them up, and threw a big tablespoon at the base of each plant. Not really sure if that is what did it, but no more end blossom rot. Does anyone know if this could be it?

Kristen Boucher
Kristen Boucher

AMAZING post! Thank you! My tomatoes did HORRIFIC this year (and honestly, never do really well), and I'm convinced not knowing whether the variety is determinate/indeterminate AND the lack of sucker pulling is the culprit! THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU! Next year, I will KILL it in my tomato garden! Sharing this! :) 

Tom M
Tom M

I never EVER remove suckers.  I need the leaf cover to prevent sunscald on the tomatoes.  The suckers do not prevent the plant from producing tomatoes.  They do not suck anything from the plant.  If a tomato plant is growing nicely and lots of green, but no flowers, then it has been given too much nitrogen which boosts green growth at the expense of reproductive growth.  Also, blossoms will drop if the temps are too high either day or nighttime.

Growing Real Food
Growing Real Food

I am glad you brought this up. I will make a change in the post. ALL suckers should be removed if they fall below the flower heads. Right now you probably have a lot of suckers and all the energy is going to the suckers and your plant most likely doesn't have the energy to produce the flower heads. Does this make sense?

Sandy Bean Miller
Sandy Bean Miller

no, a little confused from the post- thought only suckers below flowers should/would be removed

Sherry Russell
Sherry Russell

so that's why my cherokee purples only have a couple of fruit! Bummer.

shyls farm
shyls farm

thanks.  pinching off makes all the difference.  My main variety is early girls. I am on the leeward side of the mountains and at 750 feet elevation.  Several of my friends at lower elevations close to our river find celecrity is a good in determinate varirty.  I plant them close together about 18" to 2 ft and let them grow up cylinders made with cement wire.  The best cages are 7 feet tall.  The plants self shade and bear better.  I use drip irrigation which among other advantages helps prevent black mold from forming.  In preparation for the garden season I usually double put a 4 to 6 inch layer of mulch on the top, let it sit for a least 2 weeks then double dig the plot.  The plants a vigorous and strong with all the nutriunts.  I also love to plant juliets, several cherry varietys that will self seed for the next year, plums or romas as determinates for canning sause and this year a salsa variety.  All this is from other gardeners tips over the years.  all of us gardeners have to look out for one another.  Oh I forgot to mention that I grow my own from seed and lay the plants over on their side to improve good root growth when planting.  Just firm up the soil and bring the tops upright when planting.  So much to lear, so much work to do and so much fun to have.


Sandy Bean Miller
Sandy Bean Miller

I am growing heirloom tomatoes. They just keep growing up and up; no flowers! What do I do?

tschnath
tschnath

Thanks for the info.  I haven't started my garden yet, but I'm gathering information and this will be very helpful.  Have a great day!

Arla N
Arla N

Thanks for the information! I'll pass it on.

Growing Real Food
Growing Real Food

I didn't know about this either for several years, but when I started to prune and remove suckers, I finally started to get tomatoes!

Melanie Hoffman
Melanie Hoffman

I wish I had known this last year. Huge beautiful tomato vines but not one ripe tomato before the frost. This year my CSA farmer friend showed me how to prune them. I'll have a ripe tomato very soon!

Rick Burris
Rick Burris

I'm growing heirloom tomatoes and they are doing just great

DavilynEversz
DavilynEversz

@Lisa GG The eggshell concept is more or less a myth.  Eggshells really can't break down and give any benefit in that short period of time.  Be careful with the Epsom salts - the ones you buy in the store can have toxic additives.  There are many theories about the use of Epsom salt - some swear by it - others say it has a toxic effect if continually used.  Also banana peels have extremely toxic chemicals on them, including fungicides - I wouldn't use them.  With heirlooms, they often will have the first few tomatoes showing BER - but catch up as the fertilizers take effect.  The easiest way is to put 4TBS of calcium chloride in a gallon of water and spray early in the morning, be sure and spray undersides of leaves. Always take all the BER tomatoes off the plant - don't leave them on.  It is always good with tomatoes, to use a good micronutrient spray with your fertilizer.  If you are a hobby gardener, spray-n-grow has a good system product and is inexpensive.

hallecottis
hallecottis moderator

@Kristen Boucher Thanks so much for sharing Kristen.  Agree, the first few years I grew tomatoes I had terrible success.  Once I implemented these changes I had a total turn around on growing tomatoes and quickly became successful!  Now I have so many tomatoes that I feel that I am feeding the neighborhood :)

hallecottis
hallecottis moderator

@shyls farm Wow, thanks so much for sharing!  Sounds like you have a wonderful system in place.  This year I only had 5' cages and I am paying for it...Am going to take your advise and build 7' ones next year.  Please do keep us posted of your progress! :)

DavilynEversz
DavilynEversz

@Sandy Bean Miller Could be a multitude of reasons.  Heirlooms aren't really found of hot weather - they slow down in production and tomatoes will be of a smaller size.  Too much nitrogen can produce foliage but no tomatoes.  Although many people don't know this, or mention it - sometimes it is just the genetics of the person or company that produced it.  Heirloom tomatoes will always produce less than a hybrid so one mustn't expect to have as many tomatoes on a heirloom.  There is much controversy about eliminating suckers.  Some swear by it, some have tried it and says it doesn't make any difference.  In the end product, as a vegan farmer, I've found some varieties just do better here than others.  It is all trial and error.  If you live in a place where you have some more growing season left you can prune them back severely and let them try again. Although tomatoes don't need pollination the way a squash or melon would, they often need help in pollinating.  If they are growing in a place where it doesn't get much wind and you aren't hand pollinating your blossoms may not be setting.  This is why commercial growers often use electric pollinators for tomatoes.  Go to YouTube or Google for information on hand pollinating whatever plant you are having trouble with. Many people use the backside of a electric toothbrush. I've included info on pollinating problems for those who read this and have some flowers but no fruit set.  In you case it may be that you are over-feeding it, its in too much shade or could be weather related if you are having a colder than average summer.

hallecottis
hallecottis moderator

@tschnath Start out small.  My first garden was a 4'x 4' and then I built from there.  Gardening can be overwhelming if you start to big.

tschnath
tschnath

@hallecottis @tschnath Thank you.  I have heard that before and was planning to start small.  I had a flower garden at my old house.  We built a new house and have no landscaping at the moment.  My flower garden was around 3/4 of the house and it was a bit much to maintain.  My plans are to add some flower gardens that are smaller in size and a few vegetable garden with some flowers as I've read several things that it's good to mix them.  I've been saving all kinds of notes from different things I've read and when I'm ready it's going to be awesome!  Thanks for the tip!  I appreciate any help.  :)

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