I'm growing tomatoes and in accordance with all the advice I am pinching out side shoots, which I take to be the shoots which sprout out roughly bisecting the angle between the main stem and a 'branch'. By this definition I have side shoots growing out between the the main stem and the cotyledons. Are these side shoots to be pinched out, or rather the beginnings of branches which will later develop side shoots of their own?


Exhibit 1: One tomato plant with cotyledons; shoots in the vicinity thereof.

tomato cotyledons and shoots

The question is simply, are these side shoots, or branches?

2 Answers 2


I think there might be some confusion about pinching out... the advice has always been, for tomatoes which produce fruits of a medium or large size, stop them by pinching out once 6-8 trusses have formed, and that means all over. It is not necessary to do this at all with smaller tomatoes, such as cherry tomato varieties.

UPDATE: I made a comment below, but decided to add it to the answer with more detail - as I said, if you're growing a cordon variety, these are grown as a single stem, tied to a support, and only 4 trusses are allowed to develop. Side shoots are removed to keep the upright shape and limit the number of trusses. Examples of cordon tomatoes are Ailsa Craig, Alicante, Craigella, tumbler, Moneymaker - there are many more, so it rather depends on the variety you're growing as to how you treat them. Note that four trusses is usual in cooler climes with a shorter growing season - hotter parts of the world tend to restrict to around 6. The other group of bush varieties need no such treatment, though some of them may need staking (such as Pixie).

Note that cotyledon refers to seed leaves rather than lateral (side) shoots; laterals may also arise from existing branches, at the ends. All should be removed so that you just have leaves which arise from the main stem - beyond 4 (or whatever is appropriate for where you are) trusses, you 'stop' by taking the top off. Later in the growing season, towards the end, as ripening goes on, if there are a lot of leaves on the main stem, many can be removed to enable less shading of the fruits.

  • Really? Absolutely everything I've come across so far suggests that side shoots should be pinched out as soon as they appear. Just googling "side shoots" returns a page of such advice, starting with this youtube video for example: youtube.com/watch?v=EtFnORJBQ90
    – stovroz
    May 13, 2014 at 19:20
  • 1
    That video lead in states quite clearly that this is done on cordon grown/upright varieties, but not on bush ones, so it does rather depend what variety you've got and how you're growing them. If yours are cordons, then follow that advice.
    – Bamboo
    May 14, 2014 at 10:57
  • Thank you, your revised answer matches my understanding, but I regret to say doesn't address my original question which was only whether the shoots spouting in the angle between between the main branch and the cotyledons are lateral side shoots or leaf branches.
    – stovroz
    May 14, 2014 at 19:13
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    @stovroz: they're shoots which have the capacity to become lateral branches, but as they're so low down, its unlikely they'll develop fully - if it becomes clear they are growing larger, then nip them off if you want to.
    – Bamboo
    May 30, 2014 at 11:49

It's hard to tell from your photo whether your tomato plant is in it's final container or you plan to transplant it again.

When growing tomatoes, each time you transplant it you;'re supposed to trim off the bottom leaves and bury it deeper than it was before. Here's a study showing that deeper transplanting of tomatoes results in higher yield. When I plant my transplants outside I trim off all but the top 2 or three branches and bury it up until that point. Any part of the plant that is underground will start to grow roots. By the time a plant was old enough to have side shoots growing from the cotyledons, they would have already been pruned off and buried.

When planted, it's common to also trim off the bottom branches to keep the leaves up off the soil to prevent splashing which could let soil borne diseases onto the plant leaves.

So, to answer your question... Should you prune those side shoots? They should have already been pruned for the reasons mentioned above.

Concerning pruning vining varieties to a single stem, I recently read a study that shows that pruning to 2 shoots with 50cm spacing resulted in more yield.

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