Every home gardener wants their plants to thrive and do well. Often there are little, easy to do things that can greatly improve the chances of plants in your garden succeeding. Here we are going to talk about one thing you can do to help your tomato and pepper plants grow great: pruning off the lower leaves or as I call it limbing up!
Usually when people say “limbing up” they are referring to pruning trees and shrubs to improve the form. This carries over perfectly to tomato and pepper plants! When applied to tomato plants limbing up is simply pruning off the lower side branches of the plant. By limbing up and pruning off those branches you reduce the chances of disease affecting your plants so let’s look at how this works. Many diseases that damage tomato and pepper plants actually are present in the soil. Diseases like blight and leaf spot can be extremely damaging to the foliage and to the overall health and production of the tomato plant (Diagnosing and Controlling Fungal Diseases of Tomato in the Home Garden – link to Rutgers info on soil born tomato diseases).
Since these diseases are present in the soil and can persist in the soil we want to reduce their contact with the tomato plants if at all possible. That’s why crop rotation works so well. You simply move the plants to another location for a couple seasons until the diseases die out naturally in the affected location. Sometimes though you don’t have the space for crop rotation in your garden so other techniques are needed.
How Does Pruning or Limbing Up Work?
Limbing up works by reducing contact points for the soil borne diseases. When the leaves are pruned on the lower 12 inches of the stem it opens up the lower part of the plant for better air circulation. When it rains or the plant is watered water droplets can splash back onto the plant and spread the diseases in the soil to the leaves. I would also recommend an additional step over the pruning: mulch. Mulching properly will also reduce the backspashing water on the plant plus have the added benefit of maintaining moisture in the soil.
How to Prune Up (Limb Up) Your Tomato and Pepper Plants
Pruning or limbing up your tomato plants is very simple. While your plants are young pinch off or cut off with pruners the branches closest to the soil. When they are small pinching it between your thumb and index finger is easy. Always leave a good amount of top growth but the goal is to eventually remove the lower 12 to 16 inches of branches when the plant is more mature. As the plant grows continue to remove the lower limbs until you reach that 12 to 16 inch goal. After that you can stop pruning the lower leaves and focus on removing unwanted suckers.
You can check out how I limb up my tomato plants on my Growing The Home Garden YouTube Channel:
Limbing up is one technique that will help you prevent those soil born diseases from damaging your hard work in the garden. Remember to prune the suckers and minimize how many branches you have on the tomato plant. Try to keep about 3 main branches on an indeterminate tomato plant. If the branches are limited the plant will produce larger fruit.
(If you haven’t planted your tomato plants yet read this post: The Best Way to Plant Tomatoes)
The most important concept is to allow air circulation. Moisture is a friend to fungal diseases and if your plants can dry out well between rains and watering those fungal disease will not have an opportunity to grow. Keep this tomato growing tip in mind and you are one more step on your way to successful tomato harvest!