Six ways to give your tomato plants some support.
Mid summer is ripening on the vine! The tomato plants are bursting with green tomatoes and maybe even have a few ripe ones. They’re hitting a growth spurt, putting on new growth and new flower clusters right and left. If you haven’t given your tomatoes some support by this time of the season, you should do it right away!
Tomatoes grow in a gangly fashion, and their fruits are so heavy, that you must give them some support as they grow. Keeping their limbs suspended prevents folded stems, withered foliage, and promotes good air circulation. Tomato plants with dry foliage have fewer problems with fungal disease and pests like snails and slugs. Here are a few ways to keep your tomatoes trained and contained this summer:
Cages – Cages are one of the most popular ways to manage tomato plants. They are wire frames that come in a variety of sizes, typically in the shape of a cone or box, that you place over and around the tomato seedlings shortly after you plant them. As the plant grows, the vines rest on the cage walls and use them for support. Because the quality of manufacturing varies, cages can last for year or just a single season. I tend to find that larger cages are better for almost all tomato types, however, even with the largest cage, I usually also have to stake or string some plants as they outgrow their cage by late summer. Here’s an overview of some popular tomato cage styles (from The Los Angeles Times).
Stakes – Staking is one of my favorite ways to support my tomatoes. Unlike cages, stakes are easily installed at any point during the season and can be made out of nearly anything, including recycled materials or even yard debris. There are many different ways to stake tomatoes, but here are two of my favorite: The most simple is to select a long stake (4 to 6 feet will usually do), dig a 6 to 10-inch deep hole in the dirt no less than 8 inches from the nearest plant, insert the stake, and bury the end. Secure the plant loosely to the stake using soft twine (my grandmother used to use old nylons so that they would stretch as the stems grew—neat idea, but since I don’t own a pair of nylons, well… so much for that). My next favorite is to stake two or three plants at once… Find three stakes with somewhat equal lengths (6 foot or taller is best). Place the stakes on top of the soil at three points, equal distance apart on the outside of your plants. Lean the three stakes together into a tripod shape above your plants and bind at the top with twine or rope. Wrap the tripod with twine to give the plants something to rest on as they grow.
Stringing –Commercial hothouse and hydroponic farmers often string tomatoes vertically to save space. The same technique can be applied at home to save space and support your crazy climbers. This is one of my favorite ways to support my tomatoes; especially those on my patio where I have beam hooks overhead or near the neighbor’s fence. Start with a short stake at the base of the plant. End with a tall stake, beam hook or fence on the other side of the plant. Run a string of yarn or twine between the short stake and the tall stake, hook or fence board. Wind your tomato vine around the string and revisit for training as the plant grows. You may need to add more strings as your tomato grows new branches.
Trellis – A trellis is an attractive way to train your tomatoes and it’s similar to both caging and stringing. You can use a piece of garden lattice, chain link, netting, or even a rose arbor as a support for your tomato plants. Just install one in your tomato patch and weave your plants through it as they grow. Here’s how to make a tomato trellis (from Grow Garden Tomatoes).
Hanging baskets – Tomatoes can make good basket plants because they produce well with limited root space and have nice looking foliage. Many tomatoes tend to have an upright growth habit, which isn’t the greatest trait for a basket plant, so if you’re going to go the hanging basket rout, you want to pick the right plant. Roma and cherry varieties are often popular picks for baskets because of their shrubby growth habit and their “snackability.” Here are a few tomato varieties recommended for hanging baskets (from the Telegraph).
Upside down planters – I’m sure you’ve seen upside down tomato planters on TV and in the store… Their marketing sure works, but do the planters? With the proper location and care, they sure do, and they come with some nice benefits. Like traditional hanging baskets, these upside down tomato planters can be hung on a patio or other sunny location that is convenient for snacking. Plus, hanging tomatoes don’t need to be staked. Suspending plants in the air deters many pests and afflictions that cause earth-bound plants to require staking. You can buy upside down planters at most local garden shops, or you can make your own! Here’s an article on how to make upside down tomato planters (from About.com), just be sure you have a strong helper and a sturdy hook or basket stand ready.