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Three ways to trellis tomatoes

Now is the time to trellis and prune your tomatoes. A trellis is simply a support system for your tomato plants to keep them off the ground and promote good air circulation. Trellising is important because it supports strong stems, prevents disease issues, and allows for easier access to fruit. We'll look at three different ways to support your plants.

No matter which method you use, make sure to prune your plants throughout the early summer. Removing the bottom leaves helps to prevent pathogens in the soil from splashing up onto the leaves. Removing suckers (the little leafy shoots above each stem), helps the plant to direct its energy into growing strong leaves and stems that can support more fruit.

#1 Tomato cages

Tomatoes growing in a bed of bare soil with straw mulch between rows. Each tomato has its own yellow or orange cage.
Tomato cages come in a variety of sizes and colors.

Buying individual tomato cages is perhaps the lowest effort, but most expensive option for trellising your tomatoes, especially if you grow many plants each year. These cages are easy to find at your local hardware or garden store, and come in a variety of sizes and colors.

In general, get the largest and sturdiest cages possible, as tomatoes almost always grow out of these cages. The exception is dwarf tomatoes bred for pots; these can usually be supported with smaller cages.

Pros:

  • Neat appearance in the garden, colorful cages can add aesthetic appeal.
  • Easy to use.

Cons:

  • More expensive than other methods.
  • Cages often don’t provide enough support. Young plants can flop inside of them, resulting in weak or broken stems.
  • They require regular upkeep; if stems grow in the wrong direction, they can break as you try to wrestle them back into the cage.
  • They are often not large enough to support tomato plants, especially indeterminate plants, which grow very tall.

#2 A single post

Tomato plant growing in bare soil is tied to a green plastic stake using green “tomato tape”, a fabric tape that adheres to itself.
Tomato growing up a single post and attached with tomato tape

There are so many posts and sticks available at garden centers, it can be hard to know what to choose. A single post support system is a simple and effective way to grow tomatoes.

As the plant grows, you can use a variety of materials like string, tomato tape, or plant clips to attach the growing stem to the stick, keeping it upright and supported. If you plan to use individual posts to support your plants, here are a few things to consider:

  • Make sure it can hold the weight of the plant. A single bamboo post is not likely to support the weight of a mature tomato plant. Opt for heavier duty materials like steel t-posts or hard plastic garden posts.
  • Use a post with the proper height. If you’re growing determinate tomatoes, they should not get much taller than 4-5 feet. But many of the tomato varieties we love to eat are indeterminate, meaning they will continue to grow taller throughout the season. If you’re growing indeterminate varieties, use the tallest posts you can find.
  • If you’re going to use the same posts year after year, opt for a material that can be cleaned and sanitized; this is better for disease management. Basically, this means not wood. The material should have a smooth surface that can be washed to prevent diseases from carrying over from year to year on the post.

#3 The basketweave

For gardeners who like to grow a lot of tomatoes, the basketweave system is a great alternative to individually supporting each plant. This system is sometimes referred to as the Florida weave.

With the basketweave system, a strong post (a steel t-post or sometimes a wooden trellis system) is set into the ground between every 3-5 plants. Rather than attaching the plants directly to the post, a string is tied to the post, then weaved through the plants.

As the plant grows, you continue to add more strings, switching sides of the plant with each layer. As with the post system, it’s important to use posts that are the right height for your plants.

Pros:

  • This system can support multiple tomatoes, requiring less infrastructure / investment in equipment.
  • It can be easier to catch up with trellising if you fall behind when using this system since the weave provides more flexible support.

Cons:

  • It only works well for tomatoes grown in a straight row.

Check out this video from Louisiana State University for a tutorial: How to Florida Weave Tomatoes.

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