Summer would simply not be summer without lots of tomatoes. To keep my tomato plants happy and productive I give them the necessities of life: food, water, and light. But, for the greatest yields, they also require that I provide some means of support or trellising. Lifting and supporting the plants keeps the fruit clean and away from pests, provides better air circulation to help prevent disease, and makes it easier to see and harvest the fruit. I can also fit more plants into a smaller area by trellising them. All this translates into more and better tomatoes. During my many summers of tomato fixation, I’ve tried and observed many types of tomato supports and have found several tried-and-true structures that are readily available, dependable, and sure to keep the garden looking attractive and orderly.
Simple tomato cages are easy to find
Tomato cages, structures that entirely encircle a plant, are the easiest supports to use. There are several variations of cages available, but if you’re going to be growing just a few plants, the easiest cage to find is the ubiquitous, inexpensive, cone-shaped, heavy-gauge-wire “tomato basket.” These cost just a couple of dollars each, and in the spring I see them for sale everywhere from nurseries to drugstores. You simply push the legs into the soil around a young plant, then let nature take its course. As the plant grows and fills the basket, tuck wayward stems behind the encircling wire. But be careful; these 3-foot-tall cones are not particularly stable. Indeterminate tomato vines can quickly grow beyond the top ring of the basket and topple the whole plant. It is best to use determinate tomato varieties with these cages or be prepared to brace them with stakes when the vines get larger.
To support indeterminate varieties, I prefer to make my own cages out of 5-foot-tall concrete reinforcing mesh that I buy at a home-supply store. Make sure the mesh is large enough to get your hand through while clutching a ripe tomato; a 6-inch-square mesh works for me and is readily available in stores. To make the cage, cut a 4-1/2-to-6-foot-long piece, roll it together so the ends meet, then secure them with wire to make a cylinder with a diameter of 1-1/2 to 2 feet. If you garden in a windy area consider anchoring the cage to the ground with ground staples or stakes.
One drawback to using tomato cages is that they take up a lot of storage space in the off-season. With my homemade version, I can untie, unroll, and stack the wire, but that is somewhat inconvenient. If your storage space is limited, you might want to consider using circular or rectangular collapsible tomato cages that fold for easy storage.
CAGE – As a tomato plant grows up through the cage, whether homemade or store-bought, tuck wayward stems behind the encircling wires. Best for determinate tomatoes.
LADDER – As a plant grows, wind the stems through the rungs of the ladder, attaching them with a tie if needed. Best for indeterminate tomatoes.
TRIPOD – Use this structure to support either a plant at the base of each leg (as pictured) or a single vine planted in the middle. Best for indeterminate tomatoes.
FLORIDA WEAVE – This staking option works well when growing many tomato plants. Twine is woven around wooden stakes to support unpruned plants as they grow. Steel T-posts at the ends of the row hold the temporary structure in place. A good system for either determinate or indeterminate tomatoes.