How to Prune Toms, Peppers, Cukes + Melons

summer tomatoes and com

A single leader tomato is a very fine thing. 

Easy to stake. Easy to pick. Easy to spot pests. Easy to spray. But most important of all in my high rainfall not reliably hot climate – plenty of airflow and sun for best health + ripening.

Tomato Laterals + How to Remove Them

tomato lateral

The shoot beneath my finger is a lateral. Laterals are the growths that appear in the crook where the leaf meets the stem – aptly named by Hannah Zwartz as the armpit.

To grow a single leader tom, these all need to come off. Best done when they’re small. This way the wound is mini and heals lickety split. 

lateral pruned

Go through a couple of times a week snapping them off. Start at the bottom and work your way up. If done regularly its a quick job with only 1 or 2 new shoots needing removal at a time.

If by chance a lateral gets away on you, you can either prune it off or keep it. 2 leaders can go on a stake – one in front, one in back. If you are using a trellis or mesh frame you can let 3 go if you so wish.  

You can you see, create whatever shape you want.

Cucumbers + Melons

For the same bonuses as tomatoes plus the joy of a small footprint, grow vining small fruit cucurbits up, as a single leader, rather than along the ground.

In the protected environment of the greenhouse, I grow melons and cukes up strings. If outside its best to use a more solid frame cos when fully loaded they’re weighty as and a big wind can take them out.

To keep them on the straight and narrow with just one leader, delateral as you would for tomatoes.

Lateral shoot and flower on cucmber

In the crook where each leaf joins the stem is where the laterals (shoots) and flowers come. Pinch out the shoot …

Pruning cucumbers Remove the shoot and leave the flower

… and leave the flower.

Cucumbers growing up a string

Et voila … one long line of cucumbers (or melons).

Maxing out on airflow and light + nice clean fruits too. The very best.

Peppers + Aubergines

2 leaders on Florence Round aubergine

Rinse and repeat, with a difference. I create 2 leaders on my peppers and aubergines because they’re not as vigorous as toms and cukes. Two leaders makes up for this with twice as many fruits.

Pinch out laterals in the same way as for toms.

eggplant with lateral shoots - before pruning
Before pruning
eggplant after pruning
After pruning

When plants are about 10cm high, let a lateral shoot away. This will become the 2nd leader.

2 leaders on this long purple aubergine for more fruits
2 leaders on this long purple aubergine. Each wound round its own string.

When both leaders are long enough, I wind each one round its own string. The strings are put in place at planting – with one end tied to overhead wires on the ceiling and the other tucked beneath the plant. Such a strong support system.

2 leaders on cayenne pepper growing up strings

Which is extra important for peppers who have the breakiest branches … sitting ducks for snapping off under weight of heavy fruits.

This is the primo pepper set up – well spaced fruits and strong, well supported branches = a boomer of a crop.

Get Rid of the Old

Taking old yellowing foliage off the bottom of eggplants

At the same time you delateral, snap off bottom leaves as they yellow, and once fruiting starts, snap off foliage that blocks light to fruits.

Keep things handsome + fresh, my friends.


  1. Such awesome tips particularly regarding cucumber lateral pinching and two leaders for Auvergne and capsicum. Will be shaping these situations tomorrow now!

  2. Hi Kath, I got really inspired with your posts on living mulch and went a bit mad sowing phacelia, buckwheat, mustard, and marigolds. Now I have beds full of towering mulch plants almost as tall as me and I’m at a bit of a loss how to plant out my comparatively tiny squash, corn, courgettes, and dwarf beans amidst such giants…? My tomatoes went in earlier and seem to be faring better. Should I pull out plants to make gaps (would be pretty shady down there) or chop it all back (losing the flowers) or pull it all out and resow another crop that might keep pace with my veggies better? It’s beautiful chaos here… [I’ve been having trouble posting this comment on your Dec post so apologies if you wind up getting it a million times!]

    • Hey Alana! Sounds fun, but yes you need the light so chop back until the light shines forth. Use the chopped down stuff as mulch around the new plants. Even though you’ll decapitate the flowers there is still benefit to be had below ground in the wonderful variety and continuum of roots. Phacelia is quite floppy so hopefully you’ll be able to keep some and lay it on its side and still benefit from the flowers. Perhaps chopping out marigolds which are bigger and bushier and keeping the more gentle phacelia…. it’ll make sense when you are out there! Crimson clover from kings is an awesome low growing flowering companion for squash to sow at the same time as planting or a little before. Marigolds can often be replanted if not too big. We will be learning till the end of our days 🙂

  3. Thanks heaps!