How to Support Tomato Plants.
With tomatoes being a staple in gardens everywhere, knowing the best way to plant them and have them yield a healthy harvest is important. The best thing that any gardener can do for their tomato plants is to provide support for their health.
When you support your tomato plants, you’ll have less risk for disease. You’ll also grow healthier plants and get higher yields of delicious, homegrown tomatoes.
Do I need to support tomato plants?
Whether you are growing tomato plants in a pot or in the garden, it is important to note that these plants do become top-heavy. Once they start to take off, they have rapid growth, and they will need support at different stages in their growth in order to maintain their balance and continue growing at a steady and efficient pace.
The tomato fruit is heavy, especially with slicing tomatoes. This heavy weight can pull the plant to the ground. Not only will it pull the plant to the ground, but it could also break the fragile stem of the plant, causing the broken part to die.
Also, tomatoes are prone to pests and diseases, so if they are not supported they will sprawl across the soil and become vulnerable. Airflow around tomato plants is key to keeping diseases like powdery mildew and blight away.
Plants that are staked up and supported well will have less risk of disease. Tomatoes that have fallen to the ground will grow along the ground, reducing the amount of airflow around the leaves and stems.
I’ll never forget the first tomato plant that broke on me. It was an orange cherry tomato plant. I can’t remember the variety (sunburst, maybe?). It was the tomato plant that got my oldest child hooked on eating tomatoes from the garden.
Those orange cherry tomatoes were so sweet and the plant grew vigorously. So much in fact that it quickly outgrew its 6-foot tomato cage. The top half of the vine became too heavy and eventually leaned over.
It managed to grow like this for a few weeks before it finally snapped and broke. Once the top part of the plant broke, the entire plant died. We were pretty bummed because we still had several weeks left in the growing season.
One of the most popular ways to really help tomatoes take off is to use tomato stakes for support and elevation. Most garden centers have buckets of tomato stakes on hand that are fairly cheap.
Stakes can be placed anywhere in the garden or in the pot where the plant needs the most help.
A stake can be a thick piece of wood or a metal pole that is larger than the thickest part of your current tomato plant. Shove this stake into the ground around the area where the tomato plant is and should be growing.
I really like these 6-foot steel stakes that are plastic coated. These make for great supports to anchor your tomato plants and other vining crops to.
For best growth, you want these stakes to be large, at a minimum of six feet tall.
As the tomato plant grows, use twine or garden string to keep the tomato plant secured to the stake.
Using Tomato Cages for Support
When you plant your tomatoes in pots, tomato cages make a nice addition for support.
Not all tomato cages are the same size, so it is important to get one appropriate for your pot. You must keep the size and weight of your pot in mind so that you can balance the cage and allow it to maintain its sturdiness while the plant is growing.
The legs of the tomato cage should reach the bottom of the pot, and if they do not, cut the cage so that it fits the pot adequately. These cages allow support all around your tomato plant as it grows.
Cages are also perfect to use in the ground.
Don’t wait to put tomato cages on your plants. Feeding a large tomato plant through the bottom of a tomato cage usually ends in broken stems. Instead, place the tomato cage over the tomato plant when the plant is very small and young.
It may look silly to have a cage over a small plant, but allowing the tomato to grow up through the cage is much easier than trying to feed it up through the cage.
Keep in mind that not all cages are created equal. The larger the cage and the thicker the wire, the better it will be able to support your plants. Shop around to find the best and sturdiest cages before buying one.
For indeterminate tomatoes that will continue to grow all season long, I like to use a tall, sturdy tomato cage. These cages are large, coming in at 80″ tall, and are designed for heavy plants.
If you don’t need cages that big or you’re trying to save space, I also like these foldable tomato cages. They’re sturdy so they’ll give your tomato plant support, but they’re also easily foldable so you can store them in a smaller space between growing seasons.
Garden Twine or String
When you start supporting your tomato plants, you will need to tie off the plant to the tomato cage or stake that you are using. Tomato plants, even vining ones, don’t have tendrils that will attach to support. You’ll need to tie them to the support using twine or string.
There are certain things you need to use to protect the skin of the plant and keep it from breaking. Garden twine is meant to be gentle on the plant without bruising the skin while holding it firmly in place.
Regular cloth string will also work, as it doesn’t dig into the plant. You do not want to tie the plant tight to the stake, but give it some room to lean into the garden twine or string.
Since the fruit on tomato plants vary in size and weight, the tomato plants with smaller fruit work well with trellises.
Since trellises are larger than stakes and cages combined, tomato plants are able to continue bearing fruit at larger yields because of the room they have to grow. Because of the different trellis designs, you can plant multiple plants together and do so in stages so that your fruit harvests at different times throughout the season.
You can also use things that mimic a trellis to give your tomatoes support. If you have latticing under a deck or on your home, you can use this to act as a trellis. Simply tie your tomato plant to the lattice as the plant grows.
We have used a string trellis netting along our back fence to give us a way to easily grow tomatoes, green beans, and cucumbers up the fence. Here’s the trellis string netting that we use.