Growing tomatoes is every gardener’s dream. Everything about fresh, garden-grown tomatoes is a treat: the scent of sun-warmed tomato leaves, the look of the red, yellow, orange, or pink tomatoes gleaming on the vine, the burst of sweetness when you pop a cherry tomato into your mouth, and the delicious taste , which incorporates freshly grown tomatoes into delicious recipes. Luckily, growing great tomatoes isn’t difficult, but you will need a little help.
Tomato plant supports come in several varieties with the most popular growing systems including tomato cages, stakes and fences. All it takes is a little attention — and a few essential gardening tools — to plant, support, and harvest gorgeous tomatoes this summer.
There are several types of tomato plant support systems to choose from
Tomato plant supports keep the fruit and its vines off the ground by encouraging vertical growth. This also helps reduce fungal diseases and rot – and the likelihood of your growing fruit becoming a tasty snack for snails and rodents. Tomato plants that are supported can also produce tomatoes about a week earlier than tomato canes that are hanging to the ground.
Popular supports for tomato plants include tomato cages, tomato stakes, and tomato fences. Here’s a look at each to help you determine which one is best for your outdoor garden.
1. Tomato cages
Advantages: Fast | Easy to install | Low maintenance
Disadvantages: wind stable
Best for: Short, definite varieties like Roma and Bush Goliath
Tomato cages are wire frames designed to be placed around individual plants ranging from compact 33-inch cones to 72-inch tomato towers. Tomato cages are easy to install – just stick them in the ground and you’re done! The cages don’t take up much space at the base and the wire frame design is strong enough to support the side branches as the plant grows.
The problem with tomato cages is that they usually just sit on a few wires and can be prone to tipping over in windy areas. If wind is an issue, consider using a square type that attaches to the ground in multiple locations, like this heavy-duty steel tomato cage.
2. Tomato stakes
Advantages: Easy to install
Disadvantages: Frequent Maintenance | Cannot support vigorous plants
Best for: Squat, definite varieties and indefinite varieties such as cherry tomatoes
Tomato stakes are usually made from materials such as wood, plastic, bamboo, fiberglass, or plastic-coated steel. Plant ties help secure the tomato vine to the stakes as it grows upward. The stakes vary in height and should be at least 1 foot taller than your tomato plants, which are expected to be 6 feet to 8 feet tall.
Before planting your seedling, drive your stake 15 to 12 inches into the ground with a rubber mallet or small sledgehammer. The stake should be about three inches from the seed so you can tie it to the stake with enough room to grow. Make sure to tie the plant to the stake every 20cm afterwards as it grows, avoiding hard zip ties or flimsy twine that could cut into the stem.
To keep your tomatoes upright, continue to tie the stems to the stakes and trim the shoots (the stems that grow at an angle between the main stem and the branches).
3. Tomato Fence
Advantages: Robust | Good for large plants | High yields
Disadvantages: Tedious installation | Frequent pruning
Best for: Securing several tomato plants of each variety
One way to make a durable, sturdy tomato fence is with 6-inch mesh concrete rebar wire mesh, also called steel wire remesh.
Tomato vines grown in sturdy cages tend to yield larger amounts of pristine fruit compared to tomatoes grown with other supports, although they ripen a little later.
To make a tomato fence, roll the wire mesh into a cage that is at least five feet tall and large enough to encircle two to four tomato plants. Cut the bottom wires to make prongs that stick into the ground and secure the ends with wire or zip ties. Place the cage around your plants and pack it in with wooden garden stakes for adequate support.
You can also use 8-foot tree stakes to erect a tomato fence using the tomato stake post and twine method, also known as trellis or Florida basket weave. Drive two stakes into the ground, up to 10 feet apart, at either end of your tomato bed and thread double rows of heavy twine or rope around the stakes, forming a giant, narrow oval around your tomato plants. Tie the first length of twine 12 inches high and another loop every 8 to 10 inches from there as the plants grow. You can add another stake between each other plant for a sturdier tomato trellis.
With post-and-twine tomatoes, you’ll still need to prune your plants frequently, just like the one-stake per plant method, but you’ll save a bit of time by tying your plants down. Be aware that the weight of the plants can cause the twine to sag and spill your entire row of tomatoes. If you choose this setup, be sure to check it regularly.
How to plant tomatoes
Find a spot in your yard, deck, or patio that gets at least six hours of full sunlight a day. Tomatoes that get less than six hours of light develop long, pale, thin, “leggy” stems and produce very little fruit.
Next, select your seedlings. Although you can grow tomatoes from seed, seedlings will produce tomatoes six to eight weeks faster. Look for seedlings that are a deep green in color, not pale or purple, and opt for thick, sturdy stems over tall plants: you want a strong base to hold your tomatoes!
Once nighttime temperatures in your area are consistently above 60°F, plant your tomato seedling slightly deeper than in the container. Leave at least 18 inches between your plants, whether they are in the ground or in containers. You need to leave room for support and good air circulation to prevent disease.
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