Removing leaf branches or de-leafing tomato plants usually begins when the lowest leaves begin to turn yellow.

yellow tomato leaves - for De-Leafing Tomato Plants

Yellow leaves around the base of a plant are very common and it’s caused by plants sending their nutrients to the upper leaves and growing tip – the lower leaves become unnecessary and are best removed.

Standard Practice
The usual method of de-leafing tomato plants is to remove leaf branches up to the truss that is producing ripe tomatoes.

When tomatoes on the first truss are ripe, leaf branches can be gradually removed up to that truss. Similarly, when tomatoes on the second truss begin to ripen, leaf branches can be gradually removed up to the second truss and so on.

I don’t usually remove leaf branches above the second or third truss because I only grow up to six or seven trusses and tomato plants do require some leaves!

A Tomato E-book
There is a very well promoted tomato e-book advertised on the internet. Its main selling point is to suggest that tomato plants can grow successfully with very few leaves, so it teaches to remove most of them, that is, remove all except six leaves at the top!

I would strongly advise against stripping a plant of its leaves, leaving only the top few branches. In my experience it would send a plant into stress that would have a negative affect on its tomato production.

Advantages of De-leafing
However, when de-leafing is done gradually and moderately, it does have a number of advantages:

  • Increases air flow which helps prevent fungal diseases
  • Removes the opportunity for aphids and other critters to breed
  • Helps direct nutrients to the growing tip and fruit

Professional tomato growers who grow in ideal glasshouse conditions, grow more trusses on their plants than we do. Therefore, they will remove a lot more leaf branches because their plants grow to a height where they need a ladder to pick them!

Of course the more trusses you have, the longer it may take for the lower trusses to ripen. That’s the challenge when growing tomatoes in a short season area like the UK, tomato plants need to be encouraged to reach maturity more quickly than if left to do their own thing!

19 Responses

  1. Shep
    | Reply

    Hi everyone, I’m not a professional grower but I’ve been growing Tom’s for some years, so perhaps my comments might be of use to some! As regards pinching out and leaf stripping, they are really two separate issues. The aim of pinching out is to limit the eventual number of trusses to five or six, as this gives best results for back garden growers in the UK, so generally I aim for that – I occasionally let larger side shoots grow on if they develop one of more good trusses relatively early and the main cordon looks unlikely to get to the target six trusses, but six in total is still the target. This can be useful in a poor spring when I have struggled to get the plants developing early enough. Additionally, pinch out ALL growing tips at the beginning of August – flowers that have not set by then are unlikely to have time to produce mature fruit, so no point in asking the plant to do unproductive and therefore unnecessary work. As for leaf stripping, there’s divided opinion – I personally do so only after the first real fruits have appeared and only up to the leaf below the first truss and that works for me. What I would say is always cut, don’t pinch, for two reasons. First, a clean cut edge is less likely to allow the ingress of infections than a longer, raggedy tear and, secondly, pinching out can leave dirty green stains under your finger nails and a strong smell which can take some shifting! Enjoy the extra taste of your home grown toms in the fruit!

  2. Buster
    | Reply

    Hello Nick. No sign of blight, greenhouse or outdoors. Toms bulking up & waiting for some real sunshine. That’s what these beautiies need.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Buster,
      Sounds like things are going well … just a bit more sun!
      Cheers,
      Nick

  3. John Ferrier
    | Reply

    Hi Nick,
    You may recall that Izzies mother, in the village, suggested that half the main leaves are removed to aid fruiting. I recall you mentioned that this should have no beneficial effect. This old Portuguese lady Insists that this is a good system to use. My main crop is Amish Paste, purchased from Real Seeds UK Using Izzies mothers advice I selected one grow bag of 3 plants and followed her advise. Result = No difference. Certainly aids air flow.
    My year has not been as good as last year, In fact 50% down. The early good weather followed by cold seems to have had a detrimental effect. The white toms have done well and I am drying seeds for you..
    Keep in touch,
    John Ferrier, France

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi John,

      I normally remove up to around the second or third truss and grow about
      six or seven trusses on my plants in the pollytunnel. I guess this is
      almost half the leaves. It does aid air flow as you say but the direct
      sunlight on the tomatoes can cause sunscald and a few other problems –
      it often depends on the variety.

      Although my Red Alert plants started to produce ripe toms in the middle
      of June, the amount of fruit has been lower than in previous seasons
      because of the poor weather earlier in the year. Some of the larger
      varieties are well behind schedule.

      I’ve been using some new nutrients and doing all sorts of experiments
      and split tests but the weather has made it difficult to know if the
      results will be the same in a better season. Still, it’s a lot of fun
      experimenting.

      Thanks for saving some tomato seeds for me, I look forward to giving
      them a spin next season!

      Best wishes,
      Nick

  4. Krishing
    | Reply

    Hi Everyone.
    Interesting discussion on removing leaves. I’d say my plants may have more leaves than they need. My question is, would it be beneficial to remove leaves which hide trusses from sunlight? Would this aid ripening?
    Thanks.
    Krishing

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Krishing,
      It’s my experience that direct sunlight on tomatoes doesn’t make them ripen any quicker – it’s the leaves that need the direct sunlight, or plenty of light. I’ve often found the the first tomato to ripen on a plant has been shaded by leaves.
      Regards,
      Nick

  5. Erica
    | Reply

    I can see that removing some leaves may get the plant to fruit faster as it puts all its energy into reproducing before it dies if it feels it is under attack. However, plants need their leaves for photosynthesis to produce the energy they require so a healthy plant must surely need a good amount of its leaves still attached to produce healthy fruit. I feel there is a happy medium here & the ‘removing most of the leaves’ way doesn’t quite seem to be that! Just my thoughts on it…

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Erica,
      I totally agree!
      Regards,
      Nick

  6. alan pyper
    | Reply

    Hi nick i have some tomatoes with black on them could it be blight? I have taken them off and disposed of them.

  7. Buster
    | Reply

    Nick does anyone know how much energy the tomato plant loses in healing the wound when we strip off leaves & pinch out growth! Presume it must be beneficial for the toms themselves in the end.

    B

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Buster,
      To be honest I don’t know, but as you say, the benefit exceeds the initial shock!
      Regards,
      Nick

  8. alan hall
    | Reply

    I have used the “greenhouse sensations” hydoponics system this year with amazing results, I am more than wiling to share my experiences on your forum

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Alan,
      I’m using their Quadgrow Planter with very good results too!
      If you have any experiences and tips to share, we would love to hear from you.
      Regards,
      Nick

  9. Rhys Jaggar
    | Reply

    the E-book guy lives/lived on Hawaii and in California and only grew in Greenhouses. I tried it last year and it causes trusses to form quicker, but they don’t form as well, particularly on cordon varieties. Cherries seemed to do Ok with that protocol, but I’ve been more cautious this year and crops have been good.

    The book ‘How to Grow Juicy Tasty Tomatoes’ by A. Welsford and L. Grimmer is an interesting read – they work professionally in agriculture. Although based in Australia, one was originally English who married a New Zealander, who started growing tomatoes on the southern tip of New Zealand south island (rather like growing them in Western Scotland). It summarises a lot of things which you cover but it has a useful summary of a large range of tomato strains and has a lot on diagnosis of various diseases or nutrient deficiencies. I bought it online and it was shipped to the UK within about 10 days.

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Rhys,
      I’ve seen both books and the second one seems to have the more traditional approach to growing tomatoes, and as you mention, a good section on diseases and nutrient deficiencies.
      Regards,
      Nick

  10. Janis
    | Reply

    Hi Nick

    I do de-leaf up to the first truss, but also reduce the length/size of some larger leaves higher up with no ill effects. In particular this year am trying San Marzano, Italian plum tomato, which has HUGE leaves! I reduce them by about a third of their length which creates a bit more space in the ‘jungle’ to let in light for ripening, and air. So far, so good!

    • Nick
      | Reply

      Hi Janis,
      That’s a good idea, some of those Italian leaves can be huge as you say. I’ve got some potato leaf varieties I think I might apply your tip to!
      Cheers,
      Nick

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