Growing Archives

Keep vs. Prune Tomato Suckers Experiment Results

tomato plant experimentWe’ve done the tomato suckers experiment a few times, and the results are always interesting. In fact, we challenge other tomato growers to take part in this experiment here.

Last season I participated in the sucker vs. no sucker experiment by growing two rows of Better Boy tomatoes (indeterminate tomato plants) in 5 gallon buckets.

I planted in the earlier part of April since we had past the danger of frost, for the most part, here in the Atlanta area.

The plants that I removed the suckers from (experiment plants) produced 15 more tomatoes, almost 5 more pounds than the plants that grew with the suckers (control plants). All of this surplus came at the beginning of the season because the experiment plants began producing earlier than the control plants – about 16 days earlier.

Experiment plants produced on 45 days; control plants on 34 days. In all, experiment plants produced 11 more days than the control plants.

Now I’ve almost concluded that for Better Boy tomato plants grown in pots, I can increase yield by removing suckers, but here are the things that concern me about this conclusion after just one experiment season.

In June, one of the control plants lost a number of tomatoes to blossom end rot and another control plant suffered temporarily from an aphids attack.

In July, squirrels attacked many plants that either lost tomatoes or they fell off green. After the first fruits, tomatoes come in smaller so I added fertilizers to try to keep the nutrients up as at the beginning.

I noticed that squirrels, chipmunks and animals “steal” tomatoes during long periods of no rain and insects tend to attack right after a good rain.

There are so many pests to deal with when summer arrives that it’s better to harvest in spring, plus the high temperatures seem to cause fewer blossoms to set fruit.

At the end of the season I emptied out the soil from the buckets/pots where I grew my tomato plants, one bucket had about a dozen large grub worms. I noticed that this plant did not produce as many tomatoes as other plants; it also was a control plant.

The control plants (those with suckers) had to deal with a few more pests than the experiment plants (those without suckers) and if I did this experiment again, it would turn out differently. But this is what I learned about growing Better Boy tomatoes in pots:

  1. Plant as early in the Spring as possible but after the threat of frost is over (or indoors) so you can begin harvesting tomatoes before the pests come out in force.
  2. Removing suckers was a type of catalyst to get more blooms that set tomatoes for harvest – in my case, 16 days before the plants with suckers.
  3. When the control plants began producing tomatoes, the production was at about the same rate as the experiment plants – they did not produce more in number or weight than the experiment tomatoes.
  4. The difference was 11 more days of harvesting tomatoes from the experiment plants that came at the beginning of the season.

We want to know what you have discovered in your tomato growing experiments so that we might help others all over the world. Learn about taking part in this experiment.

Sign up for a free membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes.

Tomato Experiment: Suckers vs Remove Suckers

Question: Will removing suckers from tomato plants cause them to produce more tomatoes?


Participate in the tomato sucker experiment with us…

Download the Excel spreadsheet or the PDF doc to record your tomato harvest

Email your results to and I’ll report them to everyone at the end of the season.

Deal with more tomato problems with a membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes

Tomato Suckers Experiment – Part 1

To cut and remove tomato suckers or to leave them? That is the experiment!

Ernie is experimenting with two rows of tomatoes this year to solve the riddle of the tomato sucker. Take a look and leave a comment…

How To Identify Tomato Plant Suckers

Tomato suckers are easy to identify as Ernie shows in this video. The question is what to do with them…

Tomato Cages & Stakes Tips – Part 2

Ernie shows how to setup tomato cages and use them to cultivate tomato plant growth in this video.

Get Part 1 with a membership in Ernie’s Homegrown Tomatoes

Grow Tomatoes from Seed

Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetable for the home gardener to grow, and most often people choose to grow tomatoes by buying some start plants at their local nursery. While there is nothing wrong with this, growing tomatoes from seed can be just as easy, and give you a wider range of choices of types of tomatoes you can grow.

Starting Your Tomatoes

The first step to growing tomatoes from seed is to get the necessary materials; I highly recommend starting your tomatoes indoors before the last frost to ensure your tomatoes have enough time to produce heavily during the growing season. You will need a seedling tray, some good well-draining (sterile) soil, and the seeds of the tomatoes you want to grow. Bear in mind if you want to keep seeds from your crop for the next years planting pick an open pollinated or heirloom variety. Seeds from hybrid plants don’t grow the same as their parents and their seeds can’t effectively be saved.


You should try to allow your tomato plants at least 2 weeks of growth after they germinate (allow 1 week to germinate most tomato species) and be sure to “harden” your young tomato plants before transplanting. You can harden your new tomato plants by placing them outside a week before you intend to plant them, this will allow them to adjust to the temperature outdoors before they have to undergo the trauma they sustain during transplantation. Pick a site with deep soil, the more substantial your tomatoes root system can be the better their production will be. Tomatoes are ideally suited for being planted in a raised bed, and benefit greatly from an increased soil temperature which allows them to expend more energy producing extensive root systems.

After you have transplanted your tomatoes be sure to water them deeply, and keep an extra close on them until they have established themselves in their new environment. You will want to apply a fertilizer to them after 4 weeks of growing outside and then on an as needed basis.

Lucas Barnes writes for Plantdex about a range of gardening topics; learn more about growing vegetables, including more tips for growing tomatoes.

Productive Tomato Plants Q&A Call

Ernie answers questions on the call:

  • What tips do you have for people growing tomatoes at this time of year (mid-May)?
  • How to deal with the tomato hornworm?
  • Is it better to use a sprinkler or a soaker hose to water tomato plants?
  • How to deal with a black spot that forms under the skin of the tomato?
  • How to deal with common diseases and deficiencies.
  • What if I have a lack of honey bees in my area?
  • How to deal with slugs, birds, squirrels, rats and other animals on the ground?
  • What are the benefits of using mulch?
  • Alternative ways to water tomato plants.
  • Fertililzing a plant after it has been planted.
  • Is it possible to add too much fertilizer?

8 Steps to Homegrown Tomatoes – Part 2

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Tips to Growing Tomatoes

Tomatoes are temperamental and spoiled. When I say this I mean you have to be very careful with how you grow your tomatoes, otherwise you will end up will all sorts of problems like: flower drop, fruit end splitting and blossom end rot.

Tomatoes like it where it is warm, they thrive on sunlight you will want to plant them in a spot that receives around eight hours of sunlight each day. Temperatures should be in the warmer area.

You will first need to prepare your garden by heavily tilling the earth; tomatoes require loose soil with lots of organic matter. So you will also need to invest in some fertilizer.

The soil should have a PH of five point five to around six point five. The PH will affect the flavor of the finished produce so it is important to be sure that you understand exactly how you want to affect your soil and where you need it to be.

If your soil is too acidic you can use limestone to make it more alkaline. Be careful limestone will affect different soils in different ways, so check your soil and determine the proper amount needed to attain the correct PH.

After you have the organic matter added and the PH balanced you will want to make nice even raised beds. You want to have the roots reaching into the water not totally submerged.

This will prevent fruit deformation, or discoloration, and also make the plant grow better as well. If you are getting too much water in your plant it may result in flower drops, fruit splitting or blossom end rot.

Blossom end rot appears when the fruit starts to mature. You may begin to see a small water soaked spot near the blossoms end as suggested by the name of the disease.

Flower drop is where the fruit is congested with water and gets too heavy and for the plant to hold it; it then falls to the ground where it becomes compost. Fruit splitting is similarly cause by over intake of water, but it is where the fruit splits and when the innards of the fruit are revealed to open air it begins to rot while still on the stem.

So to control these from happening you have to regulate the water supply, this is best done by keeping the rivets even so that the water is evenly absorbed by the plant. Do not over water your tomato plants; if they are soaked up to the base of the plant you have too much water on them. One way to make sure you don’t over-water is to have an automatic irrigation installed with Orbit sprinklers .

So remember these tips and you will be a professional tomato gardener in no time. Tomatoes make a lovely addition to any garden; you may become the envy of your sister neighbors.

When Is The Best Time to Plant Tomatoes?

In this video we provide guidance to help you pinpoint the optimal time for you to plant tomatoes in your region:

  • Planting from seed indoors
  • Planting outdoors
  • USDA Hardiness Zone Map
  • Answers to common questions
  • The primary factor to determine when to plant in your area

Here are related videos if you missed them:

8 Steps to Juicy Homegrown Tomatoes

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Here’s the previous video if you missed it: Growing Highly Productive Tomato Plants

Growing Highly Productive Tomato Plants


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Georgia Tomato Farmer Shares His Secrets

An interview with Wendell of Talking Rock Produce

Wendell shared some tips about growing tomatoes with us. Listen to the podcast:

  • Tomatoes are my #1 crop
  • Soil temperature determines when it’s time to plant
  • Tomatoes like a mix of day time and night time temperatures
  • Raised beds and irrigation benefits
  • Soil nutrients are the key to growing better tomatoes
  • He grows 25-30 different varieties of tomatoes each year
  • Heirlooms are the “ugly” tomatoes
  • Wendell’s favorite heirloom tomatoes
  • The Florida Weave for staking tomato plants
  • Good ways to find greenhouses and high tunnels
  • Directions to the tomato farm

5 Laws of Vegetable Plant Growth

Recently we interviewed Jim Kennard of Food For Everyone Foundation, a 501(c)(3) Charitable organization that teaches “the best of organic” method of gardening.

He claims to have some tips that might just help increase gardening yields as much as 5 to 10 times!

During this first of two interviews, Jim outlines the 5 laws of vegetable plant growth: