You’ve probably heard about people “pruning” or “deadheading” their garden plants… but what does that even mean? What are they actually doing? Do you need to do these things, too?

In both of these instances, you are cutting off part of the plant in order to direct its growth how you want it.

When we prune tomatoes, for example, we are encouraging the plant to put more energy into fruit production and less energy into growing leaves. We do this by removing “suckers,” which are basically extra stems that are growing from the leaf nodes on the main vine. (Remember, we only want to prune indeterminate, or “vining” types of tomatoes, as we discussed in this post.)

Here is an example of a tomato sucker (the stem to the right of my fingers).


You can just snap those right off, like so. Be sure to do this at least once a week because those suckers grow FAST!


Did you know that you can also train cucumbers to a single vine by pruning them? The same rules apply. The sucker here is the little shoot with leaves to the right of the baby cucumber.


Snap it off!


Sometimes we’ll prune a plant to encourage more vegetative growth instead of more fruit production. Basil is a perfect example.

When basil flowers, it’s great for attracting beneficial insects to your garden, but not so great for your pesto. This plant is putting all of its energy into making seeds instead of new leaves.


You can prevent basil from flowering by pinching back the flowers when they just begin to form. This plant is ready to prune.


Pinch off the top of each stem just above where the new leaves are starting to form.


Now your plant will continue to grow new leaves… until the next time it tries to flower!


“Deadheading” is a form of pruning particular to flowers, usually ornamentals. It simply means removing spent flower blooms from the plant once they have wilted. In this case, you are trying to prevent the plant from putting its energy into making seeds so it will produce more flowers instead.

It also makes your plant look prettier!

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