Tomato suckers may seem like pesky intruders on your tomato plants, but they play a critical role in the life of your tomato plant, including its propagation.
These small, narrow shoots may seem insignificant at first, but they have a big impact on the health and yield of your tomatoes.
By understanding what tomato suckers are and how to identify and remove them, you can help your tomato plants grow strong and produce an abundance of delicious fruit.
What are Tomato Suckers?
Tomato suckers are small shoots with tomato sucker leaves that grow from the junction where the main stem of the tomato plant meets one of its branches.
These tomato side shoots, also known as lateral branches, take energy and nutrients away from the main stem of the plant, reducing the overall yield and size of fruits on the plant.
To maximize yields and encourage healthy plant growth, it is often recommended to remove the suckers by pinching or pruning them off.
How to Identify a Tomato Sucker
Tomato suckers can be identified by their small size and location at the junction where the main stem of the plant meets one of its branches, also called an axil.
Suckers typically emerge from the axil (i.e. V-shaped areas) where the leaves attach to the stem. To locate a sucker, carefully examine the base of the leaves on your tomato plant.
Look for pale green or white, smooth, cylindrical-shaped shooters that are less thick and not as woody as the main stems.
How to Remove Tomato Suckers
Gently tug on the shoot to see if it comes away easily from the plant. If it does, it is likely a sucker and can be removed.
Tomato sucker pruning is as simple as twisting the suckers off the plants using your fingers or by using a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears.
It is important to remove tomato suckers when they are small and easy to manage rather than allowing them to grow larger and more unwieldy.
Remove every sucker except the first one below the lowest flower/fruit cluster. Those suckers are the strongest and can be left to grow and bear fruit as a second stem. 
How to grow a tomato sucker
Growing healthy tomato plants from tomato suckers is as simple as transplanting tomato suckers from existing plants. Here are the steps to follow:
Propagating tomato suckers
- Locate a healthy sucker on the existing tomato plant, and gently twist the sucker off the plant using your fingers, or use a pair of clean, sharp scissors or pruning shears to cut it off. Remove any bottom leaves from the suckers.
- Fill a small jar or glass with water and place the sucker in the water, making sure the entire root system is submerged.
- Place the glass or jar in a location that receives plenty of indirect sunlight, such as a windowsill.
- Change the water every few days to keep it fresh and prevent the roots from rotting.
- After a few weeks, the suckers should develop roots and be ready for transplanting into soil.
Planting tomato suckers
- Fill a small pot with potting soil and make a hole in the center.
- Carefully remove the sucker from the water and plant it in the hole, making sure that the soil covers the entire root system.
- Water the soil to moisten it and help the sucker establish itself.
- Place the pot in a location that receives plenty of sunlight and keep the soil moist but not waterlogged.
- As the sucker grows and develops, you can transplant it into a larger pot or your garden, following the usual guidelines for planting tomatoes.
It is important to keep in mind that not all tomato suckers will successfully take root and grow into healthy plants. Some may be damaged or diseased, and may not be suitable for transplanting.
It is also important to monitor the transplanted sucker closely and provide it with the proper care and conditions to help it grow and develop properly.
With proper care, however, it is possible to successfully grow a tomato sucker into a healthy tomato plant.
Frequently Asked Questions
It is generally recommended to remove tomato suckers early to encourage healthy plant growth and maximize the yield of your tomatoes. Suckers can take energy and nutrients away from the main part of the plant, reducing the size and yield of tomato crops. Allowing suckers to grow unchecked also invites pests and diseases, and makes the plant more difficult to manage and harvest.
The number of stems on a tomato plant depends on the variety of tomatoes and the growing conditions. Determinate tomatoes are naturally more compact and typically have fever stems than indeterminate varieties, which grow very large and can have many stems. Growers recommend allowing indeterminate types to develop 3-4 healthy stems to support the growth of the plant, but this is a personal preference, and also depends on the staking or caging provided.
Tomato suckers can produce fruit, but it is generally not recommended to allow the suckers to grow and produce fruit. Fruits produced from the suckers are lower in quality than fruits on the main stem. If left to grow, suckers can compete with the main stems for nutrients and water, which can reduce overall yields and fruit sizes.
 Strader, C., & Johnson, L. (2021, February 8). Tomato Pruning. The University of Wisconsin-Madison Extension. Retrieved December 8, 2022, from https://hort.extension. wisc.edu/files/2021/07/Tomato_Pruning.pdf.