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Growing tomatoes is every gardener’s dream. Everything about fresh garden-grown tomatoes is a delight: the smell 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 in your mouth, and the luscious flavor incorporating freshly-grown tomatoes into delicious recipes. Fortunately, raising great tomatoes isn’t hard, but you are going to need a little support.
Tomato plant supports come in several varieties with the most popular growing systems including tomato cages, staking, 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 to reduce fungal diseases and rot—and the likelihood your growing fruits will become a tasty snack for slugs and rodents. Tomato plants that are supported can also produce tomatoes about a week earlier than tomato vines that trail on the ground.
Popular tomato plant supports 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
Tomato cages are wire frames designed to be placed around individual plants that range from compact 33-inch cones to 72-inch tomato towers. Tomato cages are easy to install—just push it into the ground and you’re done! The cages don’t take up much space at the base, and the wire-frame design is plenty sturdy to support side branches as the plant grows.
The problem with tomato cages is that they typically sit on just a few wires for support, and can be prone to toppling over in windy areas. If wind is a concern, consider using a square type which attaches to the ground in multiple spots like this heavy-duty steel tomato cage.
- Get the 47-in Powder-Coated Galvanized Steel Wire Square Tomato Cage at Lowe's for $13
- Get the Growsun Large 5-foot Tomato Cage (5-pack) on Amazon for $50
- Get the Gardeners Supply Company Lifetime Tomato Cages Plant Stand (4-pack) on Amazon for $65
2. Tomato stakes
Pros: Easy to install
Cons: Frequent maintenance | May not support vigorous plants
Best for: Stocky, determinate varieties, and indeterminate varieties like cherry tomatoes
Tomato stakes are typically made from materials like wood, plastic, bamboo, fiberglass, or plastic-coated steel. Plant ties help to secure the tomato vine to the stakes as it grows upward. Stakes range in height and should be at least 1 foot taller than your tomato plants anticipated 6-foot to 8-foot size.
Before you plant your seedling, drive in your stake six to 12 inches into the ground using a rubber head mallet or small sledge hammer. The stake should be about three inches from the seed, so you can tie it to the stake with enough room for it to grow. Make sure to tie the plant to the stake every eight inches after that as it grows, and avoid hard cable ties or thin strings that may cut into the stem.
To keep your tomatoes upright, continue to tie the stems to the stakes, and prune the suckers (the stems that grow at an angle between the main stem and the branches).
- Get Gardener's Blue Ribbon 72-inch Wood Landscape Stake from Lowe's for $3
- Get Laveve Heavy-duty Garden Stakes 48-inch (20-pack) on Amazon for $26 .
- Get Garden Treasures 72-inch Bamboo Landscape Stakes (6-pack) for $6
3. Tomato fence
Pros: Sturdy | Good for large plants | High yields
Cons: Lengthy installation | Frequent pruning
Best for: Securing multiple tomato plants of any variety
Tomato vines grown in sturdy cages tend to yield higher amounts of blemish-free fruits compared to tomatoes grown with other supports, although they mature slightly later.
To make a tomato fence, roll the wire mesh into a cage at least 5-feet tall and large enough to circle 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. Put the cage around your plants, and box it in with wooden garden stakes for ample support.
You can also use 8-foot tree stakes to make a tomato fence using the tomato staking post and twine method, also known as trellising or the Florida basket weave. Drive two stakes into the ground up to 10-feet apart on either end of your tomato bed and string double rows of heavy twine or rope around the posts, forming a giant, narrow oval around your tomato plants. Tie the first length of twine 12-inches high, and another loop every 8-inches to 10-inches up from there as the plants grow. You can add another stake between every other plant for a sturdier tomato trellis.
For post-and-twine tomatoes, you’ll still need to prune your plants frequently, just like with the single-stake-per-plant method, but you’ll save a little bit of time tying your plants up. Be aware that the twine can sag break from the weight of the plants, spilling your entire row of tomatoes. If you choose this set-up, check it frequently.
- Get the Vivosun Plant Trellis Netting on Amazon for $8
- Get the Landgarden Expandable Garden Trellis on Amazon for $25
- Get the MTB Galvanized Welded Wire Garden Mesh on Amazon for $34
How to plant tomatoes
Find a place 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 grow long, pale, thin, “leggy” stems and produce very little fruit.
Next, choose 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 color, not pale or purple, and opt for thick, sturdy stems over tall plants: you want a strong base to hold up your tomatoes!
Once night-time temperatures are consistently above 60°F in your area, plant your tomato seedling slightly deeper than it was in the container. Leave at least 18 inches between your plants, whether they’re in the ground or containers. You need to leave room for support and ensure good air circulation to prevent disease.
Prices were accurate at the time this article was published but may change over time.