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Tomatoes are the gems of the home garden, with many a gardener waiting on the edge of their garden bench for the first peak of ripening color. While tomatoes originally sprawled across nature's floor, most home-grown varieties need some form of support to both hold up the large trusses of fruit and to reduce the prevalence of disease on the plant. Here are four of the most common ways to support your growing tomato plants.
One of the most common ways to support your growing tomatoes is through the addition of a tomato cage. Tomato cages come in all sizes and in varying shapes and structures from square to round. The cage works by allowing the growing branches of the tomato plant to rest on the rungs of the cage as the tomato continues to climb upwards.
Tomato cages are more suited for determinate varieties that stop growing at a specific height. Indeterminate tomato varieties often outgrow cages and can cause them to slowly tip towards neighboring plants if the tomato is not trimmed back, depending on how large the cage is and what type of material it's made from.
Many people use homemade versions of tomato cages to deal with the weaknesses of store-bought varieties, such as surrounding their plants with a circle of tall fencing or creating taller and wider cages with twine and materials like bamboo.
The string trellis method is often used in greenhouses that grow large amounts of tomato plants, but the method can easily be adapted for the home gardener. A string trellis is a run of nylon, twine, or other type of rope from the base of the tomato plant to some sort of support high above the plant. In greenhouses, this support is often run across the ceiling, but home gardeners can get away with supports built between 4 and 7 feet above the ground to give plenty of room for tomatoes to climb.
In order to use this method, you'll need to single stem your tomato plant. Single stemming involves finding the main stem of the plant and removing all suckers as the plant grows. Suckers are small sprouts that develop between the 90-degree angles of the growing stem and branches of the tomato and can easily be snapped off. However, you'll need to do this several times a week to keep suckers under control.
As the tomato plant grows, gently twist the twine around the plant to give it support. As the plant gets taller, it becomes easier to wrap the plant around the string. Once the plant reaches the top of your structure, you can cut the tip off the top to force more energy into growing and ripening the tomatoes.
The Florida weave is one of the most popular ways of supporting tomatoes among home gardeners that prefer growing tomatoes in long rows. Florida weave, just like it sounds, involves weaving some type of string or rope in and out between tomato plants as they grow, using the tension of the string to provide support to each of the plants.
To use the Florida weave, install t-posts (as seen in the photo above) or other means of support approximately every 6 to 8 feet. Securely attach your string to one of the posts at the level your plants need support. Weave the string behind one plant and in front of the next, preferably under a supporting branch. As the plant grows, weave a second piece of string the opposite way in front and then behind each plant. Keep alternating front or back of the plants with each string you install as the plant grows. You may need to use plant securing pins or loose stretchy string to hold the plant to the support strings as they grow. Make sure that whatever you use to secure the plant has plenty of room or is stretchy enough to allow the stem to expand as it grows.
2'x2' furring stakes are an affordable way to support large amounts of tomato plants, especially in raised beds or in gardens where you want to spread out your tomatoes as single plants in different areas.
Take an 8-foot long piece of 2'x2' furring strip and drive it far enough into the ground to feel stable. If you have determinate varieties, you can cut the strip in half so you get two 4-foot pieces. Many big box hardware stores will cut these in half for you, or you can easily use a hand saw if you don't have access to power tools.
Like the string trellis method, you will need to single stem your tomatoes as they grow. Simply wrap the tomato vine up the furring strip as it grows, securing the plant to the strip with a piece of stretchy string or tomato tape below supporting branches.
Keep in mind that certain dwarf determinate varieties of tomatoes may not need support at all. Alternatively, you can also use hanging baskets for grape or cherry-sized tomatoes, allowing the plant to naturally use the weight of the branches and fruit to drape over the side of the basket and grow downwards. This is a great method in areas where soil diseases are prevalent, but also requires significantly more water on a daily basis to ensure the soil doesn't dry out.