If you are new to growing tomatoes, you may have questions about your tomato plant’s flowers. The flowers are essential for several reasons, but there is a point when you may want to remove them.
In this article, I will discuss whether or not you should pinch off tomato plant flowers. This will depend on the stage of growth, the time of the year, the plant’s age and how long your particular growing season lasts.
What Are Tomato Flowers?
I remember early on in my gardening days wondering about the significance of a tomato plant’s flowers. Are they just for show? Do they serve an important purpose in the plant’s life cycle?
As it turns out, tomato flowers transform into the fruits of the plant. Each flower has the potential to become a fully formed fruit when properly fertilized through pollination.
When your tomato plants begin to produce flowers, they are beginning the fruiting stage of growth. This is caused by the plant’s built-in goal of reproducing.
Tomato flowering is triggered by these factors:
Age. As a tomato plant ages, it must begin the process of reproduction, and so flowers begin to form. After a plant has been alive for 6-8 weeks, you should expect to see flower buds forming, regardless of the size of the container in which it is planted.
Container size. The size of the pot in which your tomatoes are planted will dictate how early the plant’s begin to flower. Growing in smaller pots will trigger earlier fruiting, and so your relatively young indoor tomatoes may begin to produce flowers too soon. Unless and early fruit set is your goal, this is where pruning away flower buds becomes necessary.
Tomato variety. Determinate tomato plants set all of their fruits at once, meaning that the plant will reach a mature size and then produce many dozens of flowers. Indeterminate varieties typically begin flowering earlier, and will continue producing more and more trusses throughout the year. Learn more about determinate vs indeterminate tomatoes here.
Should I Pinch Off Early Tomato Flowers?
If you are growing your tomatoes from seed indoors, and have yet to transplant them into their final location, they may begin to produce flowers early. In this scenario, I always recommend plucking early flower buds.
There are a few reasons that I pick early flower buds when the young plants are still indoors.
Encourage leafy growth. By taking away flower buds from your young tomato plants, the plant will stay focused on producing more leaves and a stronger stem. While your plants are still in small pots, they assume they are out of soil space, and start the fruiting stage. By plucking the flowers before they are able to bloom or become pollinated, the plant’s hormones are adjusted to continue growing foliage.
Prevent early fruiting. While it may be tempted to keep an early fruit on the plant to get a quick harvest, I do not recommend it. If a flower is allowed to stay on the plant and begin to form a fruit, the plant will be wasting energy on fruit and seed production when it should be growing larger. Holding off on early fruit production is essential for much better tomato yields later on.
While your tomatoes are still inside, continue picking the flower buds until they are moved outdoors into their final planting location. The plants should be healthy and established outdoors before you allow the plants to fruit, especially if they are determinate types.
How To Pick Off Tomato Flowers
My technique for plucking flowers is simple. I like to just use my fingers for larger flowers, and I sometimes resort to using tweezers if the buds are tiny. Tomato flowers usually grow on trusses, or small branches containing many flowers.
Remove the entire truss before the flowers have a chance to open up. This will trigger foliage hormones and the plant will redirect its energy back towards growing more leaves and branches.
You could pluck individual flowers, but tomato plants make it much easier than some other plant varieties by producing flower trusses!
The earlier you catch the tomato flowers, the better, as the plant will have wasted the least amount of energy to produce them. Remember, plucking tomato flowers should only be done on young plants that are not yet established in a final pot/garden bed!
When To Stop Picking Tomato Flowers
So, tomato flowers turn into tomatoes, so I have to stop pinching them off at some point, right? Of course!
In short, stop picking tomato flowers after the plants have been in their final location for 2-3 weeks. By then, the tomatoes should be adjusted to the outdoors, established in a large pot or garden bed, and ready to begin fruiting.
Remember, the goal of pruning tomato flower buds is to prevent the plant from fruiting too early. So I pluck flowers while my plants are indoors, and for the first 2-3 weeks of being outdoors.
This encourages the plant to grow big and strong during its younger days, producing more branches and stems where more fruits can later form! Yay!
Why Are My Tomato Flowers Falling Off?
Tomato flowers falling off is a much different issue than intentionally plucking flowers. There are a few possible causes for your tomato flower buds to be dropping. To name a few:
- Excessive heat. Tomatoes can handle a wide range of temperatures, but they do have limits. If you are experiencing excessive heat (90°F/32°C) then your tomato plants may begin to drop flowers. Try to provide your plants with some afternoon shade during the hottest months by moving potted plants to a new spot. For in-ground plants, you can try planting in a location with tall plants or trees on the West side to shade the plants in the afternoon.
- Too much nitrogen. If you are fertilizing your tomato plants, you should adjust the feeding to reduce nitrogen when the plants begin to produce flowers. This may seem counter-productive, but nitrogen encourages leafy growth, not fruit production. Instead, give the plants plenty of potassium and calcium to produce large yields and to avoid blossom end rot.
- Over-watering. Too much of a good thing can become a bad thing. Tomato roots require oxygen to thrive, and if the soil is soaked with water, the plants can’t breathe! Allow your plants, potted or in-ground, to drain whenever they are watered. Containers usually have drainage holes, but flat garden beds may benefit from trenches to direct heavy rain water away from the roots.
- Cold temperatures. As the season draws to a close and temperatures drop, you may begin to see your tomato flowers falling off. This is normal and is the plant’s way of preparing for stressful conditions. You can cover your plants with garden fabric to extend the season by a few weeks if desired, but expect your tomatoes to die with the cold temperatures in late fall.
- Pests. Aphids and other pests can damage tomato flowers and leaves. Look underneath leaves and around young flowers and foliage for any signs of living insects. They can be hard to spot, so look closely! If you do find anything, identify it and treat the plants immediately. I like to use a simple neem oil spray to deal with aphids, or to simply spray the plants with a hose to knock off sap suckers.
If none of these are your issue, you may want to inspect the plants for any signs of disease. Blight, mosaic and other diseases can infect your tomato plants at any point during the season, so be sure to keep good airflow around the base of the plants by bottom pruning.
I hope this article helped you to learn all about pinching off tomato flowers. The life-cycle of tomato plants relies on good, healthy tomato flowers along with pollinators. It is a joy to watch the flowers become tiny round tomatoes. Happy growing! 🍅