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Pruning tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins

Cutting back side shoots is important for most summer vegetables. By removing them, you stop your plants from wasting energy.

These energy-sucking side shoots on tomatoes are called, well, suckers.
Dieven bij tomaten
Ah ha! A tomato sucker
I'll show you how to recognize suckers on tomatoes, cucumbers, and pumpkins, and how to remove them.


All tall tomatoes produce side shoots. These grow in the axil - or armpit - between a leaf and the main stem.

They're called suckers for a reason: they are major energy suckers. So, get rid of 'em quick.

Small suckers snap off easily: 
Tot deze maat breek je de dieven van tomaten makkelijk af
Pinching off small suckers with your fingers is a snap
But when they get bigger, use scissors: 
Knip grote dieven bij tomaten weg met een schaar
Cut back the big ones
Check regularly for new suckers and remove them as soon as you see them: they'll grow into full-on side branches before you know it. 

Check the spots where you removed suckers before: sometimes they grow back in the same place.
Dieven - of zijtakken - bij tomaten groeien weer terug
This sucker regrew right next to where I pruned it
Don't forget to check the bottom half of your plant. I've overlooked plenty of suckers close to the ground and wound up with huge side branches there. 

What about bushy tomatoes?

Do you have to prune tomato varieties that grow close to the ground? No: these varieties are supposed to get nice and bushy. Like our Yellomato:
Lage struiktomaten hoef je niet te dieven
Low-growing tomatoes don't need pruning
There is one exception: if it's late in the year. 

If suckers show up on your bushy tomatoes in the fall, better cut them off. Your plant needs all its energy to ripen the tomatoes that are already there. 


A cucumber plant quickly turns into a tangle of stems and vines with flowers and cucumber fruits. This is our cucumber:
Komkommer Iznik - vol komkommertjes
Cucumber Iznik - lots of cucumbers
Cucumber side shoots aren't quite like tomato suckers. They can actually help you get a bigger harvest. So, you don't remove them right away.

You also don't want to let them grow forever. 

So, let them turn into side shoots but cut them off after the first flowers and cucumbers appear.

Here, some visual aides should help:
Zijscheut komkommer in wording
See that little side shoot on the right? It won't stay little for long
That little side shoot will just keep growing and growing. 

When it gets to be 10-20 cm long, you'll already see a few flowers and little cucumber fruits on it. So, cut off the rest of the side shoot after the first two cucumber fruits:
Afknippen zijscheut: voorbij het 2e komkommertje
Leave two cucumber fruits on the side shoot and cut off the rest


A pumpkin also produces a lot of side shoots. These have enormous growing power, so it's better to remove them all right away.

That can be a bit of a challenge when the plant is just starting to grow since the main stem and the side shoots look really similar.
A tangle of branches and leaves
So, start at the bottom of the plant, look carefully for the main stem. Then cut away the side shoots one by one.

After that, you can gently weave the main stem through the trellis net:
Freshly pruned baby pumpkin
The bigger the pumpkin plant, the easier it is to identify the main stem. It gets thicker and usually dark green in color, while the side branches are thinner and light green.
Sneaky side shoot just under the baby pumpkin
Oh, and if the main stem accidentally breaks off when you're weaving it through the trellis, don't panic. Just let the next side branch grow out. It'll take over as the main stem.

That's one advantage of having so many side shoots, isn't it?
The side shoot takes over for the main stem

Climbing zucchini

Our climbing zucchini - the Black Forest F1 - usually doesn't produce any side shoots. But once in a while, you'll spot a side branch growing at the base of the plant. Better remove it.
Klimcourgette Black Forest Makkelijke Moestuin
Our climbing zucchini
Some climbing zucchini varieties do produce side shoots. Those varieties act just like pumpkins and create huge side shoots. So, same deal: prune them back.

Keep an eye on them

So, now you know what suckers and side shoots are. And how and why you should remove them: they use up a lot of energy, which would be better spent producing fruit.

So, check your plants often and get those suckers out of there.

Go get 'm 😉

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