Lester C. Fretz
When it comes to gardening, “What’s a sucker?” is not an uncommon question . Actually, it’s an excellent question!
Unlike determinate bush tomatoes, gardeners who prefer stake tomatoes automatically grow indeterminate plants. To achieve an abundant crop of large tomatoes, allowing up to five vines to grow per stake is most adequate. “Indeterminate” implies that the stalk will continue to grow until frost.
To induce tall, productive vines, it’s important to remove the suckers. By regularly removing them, the vines will grow tall (up to 7-8 feet) and easily produce 50-75 large slicing tomatoes. By removing the suckers, the food produced by the plant will go into making this possible.
The sucker is easily identified as it grows between the main stem and each leaf which grows from the stem. The sucker is just beneath the flower. It can be easily removed (rubbed off) by time it reaches a half inch in length. Leaving it until it grows larger merely robs the plant of necessary nutrients for fruiting.
Removing the suckers encourages the plant to continue to grow taller and flower more. Limiting the number of vines per state allows for good air movement, plenty of sunlight and effective pollination.
The attached photo shows the three significant parts of the plant, i.e. the main stem growing upward to the right with the leaf growing off to the left. The sucker is between the leaf and main stem just below the flower. It has been allowed to grow to this length so it can be easily seen.
Walking through one’s tomato patch weekly to remove the suckers is a good practice. At the same time, the growing vines can be tied to the main stake which needs to be very substantial (e.g. steel post) to hold the resulting bumper crop! Of course it is assumed that a low nitrogen, high phosphorous fertilizer is also used.