As with many gardeners, tomatoes are one of my favorite crops to grow each year. One of the challenges for tomato growers is finding the proper support system for each plant, as no single method is ideal for all tomatoes.
Why Bother With Tomato Supports?
Finding the right support is crucial because it keeps both foliage and fruit off the ground, helping prevent rotting and potential disease or pest issues. Additionally, these support systems also protect your plants from wind, rain and animal damage.
Determine Your Tomato Type
Tomato cultivars fall into two growth categories: determinate and indeterminate. Often called bush tomatoes, determinate plants will reach a set height, usually around 3 to 4 feet, and bear their fruit over the course of short period—typically three or four weeks max. Indeterminate, or vining, varieties will continue to grow and flower over the course of the entire growing season. If you’re growing tomatoes from seed, the packets are usually well-marked to indicate determinate or indeterminate. When buying nursery starts, the little plastic ID cards typically are coded DET (determinate) or IND (indeterminate).
Supporting Indeterminate Tomatoes
Indeterminate tomatoes need plenty of support and require pruning and guidance to thrive. The best supports are long stakes and homemade tomato cages. Do not use the traditional wire conical tomato cages, as they’re extremely ill-suited for the height and shape of indeterminate plants.
The best cages are homemade cages made from a cut length of cement reinforcing mesh (4 feet wide with 4-inch openings is best). Form the material into a sturdy round cage that can be staked into your garden. There are also some newer commercial square cages that are properly designed for indeterminate cultivars made of heavy-duty wire that will fold flat when not in use.
If you are interested in staking your tomatoes, the best materials are pieces of rebar or heavy duty wood that are at least 6 feet tall.
Supporting Determinate Tomatoes
Bush tomato varieties require less support and less pruning to manage. While some bush varieties could survive with no supports, it’s still a good idea to protect your tomato investment. Determinate varieties tend to work best in cages, but they can also be staked if you desire. These compact plants are the only varieties that should be put in the ubiquitous conical wire tomatoes cages found in nearly every hardware store. While less pruning and support are nice features, the overall harvest size and flavor tend to be outshined by indeterminate tomato cultivars.