How to Prune Tomatoes, Peppers + Aubergines

scottish yellow tomato grown as a single leader up a string

A single leader tomato is a very fine thing. 

Easy to support. 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.

A single leader best suits tomatoes grown up strings in a greenhouse. The leader is wound around the string as they grow.

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.

These all need to come off to achieve a single leader. 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 and wind it around another string or stake. 2 leaders. No worries. If you are using a trellis or mesh frame you can let 3 go if you so wish.  

Peppers + Aubergines

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

Peppers and aubergines aren’t as vigorous as toms, so to make up for this, I create 2 leaders. The extra leader brings opportunity for twice as many fruits.

After transplanting, pinch out all the laterals in the same way as tomatoes, to create a single stem. This single stem keeps fruits clear of the ground and gives your plant a sturdy base.

Once it reaches about 20cm, let a well placed lateral – one facing the opposite direction, shoot away. This will become the 2nd leader.

When both leaders have enough vigour, start winding them around their 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.

An alternative is to use reinforcing mesh or trellis for a frame – in which case you could let three or four leaders go.

Both aubergines and peppers bear weighty fruits – a strong frame/ support is essential! Especially for peppers who have the breakiest branches, sitting ducks for snapping off under weight of the heavy fruits.

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!

  4. Hi Kath, I’ve just joined with you tonight after listening to you this morning talking to Suzie Ferguson.
    I’m feeling very fortunate indeed to have found a knowledgeable kiwi permaculture gardener as both of us haven’t much experience. Also, knowing the correct way of growing vegies etc. is going to save us a lot of disappointment and frustration. My wife, Donna and I, will look forward to your sharing of knowledge, experience and skills and a fruitful, veggieful future.
    Good Luck, God Bless,
    Dave Hancox

  5. Kia ora Kath,
    Like so may others, love your approach and thanks for passing on your knowledge. Have just bought your Edible Backyard book which I am enjoying referring to.
    With regards to strings for tomatoes, aubergines and capsicums, you say “… and the other [end] tucked beneath the plant.” By this do you mean buried in the soil under the plant or something else?
    Nga mihi nui