Tuesday, July 31, 2007

How Do You Support Your Tomato Plants?

Many of us are just entering one of the most favorite times of the year for gardeners; The Tomato Harvest!

The tomato is to the vegetable garden what the lion is to the jungle - The King! Many gardeners who don't grow any other vegetables still raise a few tomato plants.

There is more written in the blogosphere about tomatoes than any other vegetable. Ottawa Hortiphilia documents this well with an Ode to the Tomato. Further proof is the fact that Veggie Garden Info has had 74 posts about tomatoes in just the past two months. Bloggers like myself write about harvesting and eating tomatoes, growing tomatoes, types of tomatoes, early tomatoes, tomato pests and heirlooms versus hybrid tomatoes among other tomato topics. The topic we seem to leave out most of the time however is how we support those massive tomato vines. Moving back to our King of the Jungle analogy, tomato plants without the right kind of support can turn into a jungle!

So how do you support your tomatoes? Stakes or cages? Stake and Weave or some other system? Do you tie them up or use a trellis? Do you have your own creative way of keeping those tomatoes off the ground? From what I've seen so far, my vote for the nicest looking tomato support goes to Skippy's Vegetable Garden's Tomato Tepees.

I grow over 40 tomato plants each year. They are all spread out in my garden so I end up trying many different means of support. With some of the plants, I lazily plop down a store-bought cage around them. Except for determinant plants or bush patio types, this is a bad idea. They tend to eventually fall over like the one below on the left!

So other than store bought cages, I use three different types of support: The Florida Stake-and-Weave, Wood topless tomato tables, and a tie up each plant to a trellis method.

The Florida Weave is probably the easiest to do.

You put stakes in between each plant or every few plants depending on how closely spaced you tomatoes are. You then tie twine or clothesline from post to post, weaving in and out of the tomato plants. With subsequent twines above one another weaving the opposite direction, you can easily "suspend" your tomato plants.

My main advice here is to put the system in while the plants are still small like Steven from Dirt Sun Rain did. I waited till the plants were about to fall over and it was much harder to "weave" the plants.

Probably my favorite tomato support to use is my home-made "topless tables".

These don't look pretty, but they keep the tomatoes off the ground without any pruning, staking or tying. You could call them wood tomato cages. They are basically like frames for a table without a solid top. The tomato plant grows through the middle and the branches sprawl over the sides. I have experimented with making them double-decker like the one on the left, but I don't think it is necessary.

Lastly, I have what my family calls the tomato tower.

It is basically a very tall trellis in which you tie twine or clothesline from the top and then loop the other end around the base of the plant (you do not tie it to the plant). You then wind the twine around the central stem as the tomato plant grows.

This keeps the plant growing straight and upright. It works best if you keep the suckers pruned off of the central stem. I have used this method for years, but you can only support a limited number of plants this way.

Hannah from This Garden Is Illegal is using this method this year. In May, she posted a very nice (and entertaining) video about building the structure. You can find it HERE.

Well there you have it. This post ended up being longer than I expected but when it comes to tomatoes, I just can't stop writing about them. If you are still reading, chances are you too are a tomato gardening fan!

So I would love to hear from you. How do you support your tomatoes? What are some ways you have tried that worked or didn't work? Let's make this a poll of what kind of support is most used by gardeners who blog or read blogs.

Thanks and Happy Tomato Picking!

19 comments:

Carol

I stake and tie but as the summer goes on, I lose track of the suckers so I am wildly tying up whatever branches I can. I may use the Florida weave next year.

I also use short pieces of PVC pipe as the base of the stake... they are easier for me to drive them in nice and deep, then I just drop the stake in the pipe.

Marc

I'm the same way with the suckers. I have small bamboo poles that I stick in all over the place to tie up the branches that get away.

I like the PVC pipe idea as the base for your stakes.

Adekun

It's good to see the methods in practice. I tend too go with the weave, although everybody else around here seems to stick a few poles in the ground to form a tripod.

Anthony

Usually by this time of the year, I'm employing the "jungle method". That's when all of my tomato plants take the shape of a giant mess of vines. :)

But this year, I'm staking, pinching and tieing a few times a week. I've never seen such order in my garden before. And it looks like I'll probably triple the amount of fruit that I usually get. No more jungle for me.

Nicely written post Marc. You definitely did you tomato homework this season.

Marc

Thank you Anthony and good job taming your tomato jungle this year. You should post some pictures on Compost Bin.

Adekun - thanks also for commenting. As for the tripod method, do they tie the plants to the poles or tie to the top where the tripod or tepee meets? Do you have any pictures of this method?

Katie

This post is the most informative post I have come across all year! I too have a jungle of tomatoes and will certainly try the Florida weave next year. Thanks for an excellent post..!

Ottawa Gardener

I am guilty of jungle this year. I did plan something different but hey... it didn't work out. I love the weave idea!

vonlafin

My husband had some concrete wire left over from some work we had done. Basically it is rusty fencing with large holes. I thought that I would give it a try. So far they are working great. The only problem is the tomatoes tend to be inside and you really have to search to find the ripe ones. I also trim any branches they fall outside the cage. I will try and remember to post a picture of the cages on my blog.

Marc

Katie - Thank you for the kind words. Personally I like tomato jungles - there's no harm in it as long as you can keep the tomatoes off the ground.

Ottawa Gardener - Same to you, jungles are fun.

vonlafin - I have read many books that cite the concrete wire tomato cages as the way to go. I've always been scared away from them because in the books they are always pretty, but at the hardware stores I've only seen rolls of rusty looking wire like you describe. I would love to see a picture of your cages.

Matron

An interesting topic. I suppose it depends on whether you are growing determinate or indeterminate varieties. Last year I had some success with my "tomato hedge" I just made a long framework of bamboo canes and tied everything in. It worked well.

vonlafin

Marc, I have posted a picture of my cages on my blog. I kind of like the looks of them, rusty or not. I noticed today that the chipping sparrows have a nest full of babies in one of the cages. I will have to stay away from that one for awhile!

Curtis

I take a different approach. I use metal pipe.

I weave the plants in and out of the pipes. I wish it was taller but it does pretty good. Except this year I waited a little too late to put them in and start weaving. It is hard to explain how they look.

Any other tomatoes I have that can't be done this way(because I don't have enough). I cage them.

chigiy at Gardeners Anonymous

Your post is very informative.
I am writing about my tomato support as my next post:)

Robin (Bumblebee)

A few years ago I bought Texas Tomato Cages--http://www.tomatocage.com/

I LOVE them. They are strong, durable and can stand up to the heartiest indeterminate tomatoes. At the end of the season, I just fold them down and store them until the next year.

You can see them in action with my Brandywine tomatoes--a photo posted on my blog yesterday.

--Robin (Bumblebee)

joan

We are called the "Plumbers" in our community garden because we used steel water pipe to create a seven foot high trellis. We had this great old guy at our local hardware store cut the pipes to 10 feet and cut in the threads to assemble the structure. It unscrews at the end of the season for easy storaage. It resembles the tomato trellis ideamentioned in the article. We use twine strung from top to bottom and twist each tomato stem up to create one central vine, pinching off the suckers as you go. This means you will have less fruit but the fruit you do have will be larger and easy to access for harvest. This is for indeterminate tomatoes.

Chuck & Shirley Bartok

Very informative and well done Post

Glad I found it on a Google Search.

After a few years of Truck Farming Lifestyle, we are back in it on a smaller scale.

Trying to share with many the Health and Wealth aspects of small plot Gardening.

You and you readers might enjoy the Video series I am doing weekly this year, on You Tube.

Growing Tomatoes for Health and Wealth, 2008

Thanks again for your passion about Gardening

Ms. Annette

Hi Marc,

I have been enjoying your blog.

I have been using florists wire frames to support my tomatoes this year. It's a good way to recycle.

This will explain.

John

I decided to start my first real garden in 25 years in an effort to give solice for my father. He loves a garden and will sit for hours just looking. I started with 3 tomato plants and by the time I was done, I had 18 in the ground. Victorville weather goes in streaks between really hot and just plain hot. I drip water on a schedule and the plants really took off. But before I knew it I was watering too much. I think I over watered and it may be too late to fix. I use tomato cages for the plants and they are holding up well. I like the idea of the topless table and will give that a try next year.

Anonymous

I have a retaining wall at the back of my yard that is 3 to 6 feet tall. I grow yellow pear tomatoes all the edge and hang the vines down the wall. I keep them trimmed so only the stems over the wall have fruit, and so they don't overlap each other. I get a lot of tomatoes, and they are easy to harvest. I wonder if you could build a tower from old tires and hang the vines down from the top if you do not have a convenient wall. :)

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