How To Prune Tomato and Pepper Transplants For Maximum Harvest

When you have shorter hair like I do, you tend to need your haircut quite frequently. For me, it seems that whenever I get mine cut, my hair comes back stronger and quicker than ever. This is not scientifically proven, but it’s a comment my stylist and I make almost every time I’m there. Let’s hope as I get older, this continues to be true!

When it comes to plants, specifically those in the tomato and pepper families, a haircut or two at the beginning of their lives and throughout can be incredibly beneficial for them. Pruning, as it’s typically called, if done right can strengthen and shape your plants to hold larger quantities of fruits as long as time permits. This is something I’ve talked about before and have had multiple people ask me how to actually do it.

For the last year or two I have taken a new approach to my tomatoes and peppers. Being that we have a pretty short season where I’m at in Zone 5b, the sooner I can get fruits on the plant the better. And the only way I know how to do that is to start them earlier. My wife thinks I’m just impatient, but there is a purpose to doing this.

This year I started a majority of my peppers and tomatoes on January 29th, giving them four solid months of growth in my grow room. If you have a grow room or a nice sunny south facing window you can start your plants earlier too.

“Won’t they get too big with that much time?

This is where the pruning comes in. By cutting the plant back every so often, you can shape it the way you’d like and every time you make a cut the plant’s stalk gets stronger.


Here is an example my pepper plants and how I prune them. Ideally I go for a Y shape - cutting the top of the center stalk to encourage side shoots. This will allow peppers to grow on the upper side branches and have a nice strong base to stand up to the wind.

After starting the seed and allowing it to grow, the plant should have a couple tiers of leaves like this.

What you will want to do is chop the head right off leaving only a few of the lower leaves. In the grooves by the remaining leaves new growth will emerge and the stalk from the cut back will get stronger.

See how this plant’s stalk looks stronger? It has been pruned not once, but again on each of the arms of the ‘Y’ shape.

From this point focus on growth and plant it in the garden in June. You generally don’t need to prune it again. Just a couple of times in its early growth should do the trick. Doing it this way last year I harvested peppers from each plant three times! Normally I would only get one harvest if I don’t start them this early.


Tomatoes are a bit of a different story. They do not form a nice ‘Y’ shape like the peppers do. Oftentimes the way I prune them turns them into a sort of Medusa with multiple long trailing arms from a single stalk. It doesn’t look pretty, but I found that if I bury that main stalk and the arms in the garden, I end up with essentially four plants out of one.

When it comes time to prune the first time, I generally cut the top right off so the grooves produce new growth. This leaves a number of leaves and grooves for shoots to emerge from.

I will end up pruning this again on the laterals, but by the end of May it will be crying to go outside.

This method will produce a lot of tomatoes. Last year I had two plants and over 50lbs of tomatoes came off them. That being said, it is not the cleanest of methods and can look a bit chaotic.

If you are thinking about growing tomatoes up a string, this method will not work. Next year I may try this method instead, but stay tuned to see how they turn out. The varieties I’m doing this year are San Marzanos and Sun Golds.

Now that March is here it’s time to start some of the cold weather crops that are going to be transplanted into the garden around April 15th. Things like broccoli, kale, lettuce, and cabbage can all be started anytime around March 15th to get a good head start. I’ll go into more detail on this later.

Until then, keep gardening!

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About the Author

Geoff has been growing plants and vegetables consistently for the last 6 years and actively experiments with, and writes about, all aspects of gardening.

1 Comment

  1. Strawberries, Pests, and a Secret Weapon | The Four Season Gardener
    June 10, 2018 - 11:30 am

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