In the Beginning
Choosing Plant Supports
Part 8 of 8
When it comes to supporting tomato plants, there are many choices, but most require a decision at planting time. If you wait too long to implement a support system, you will run the risk of injuring the plant’s newly established root system.
The first option is to let them roam freely across the ground, much like a squash or melon vine. If you choose this method, it is imperative to lay a soil barrier such as straw or wood chips across the exposed soil since there are a number of soilborne illnesses that can affect a tomato plant. This is not the most ideal option due to spacing requirements and the susceptibility of tomato plants to a wide variety of diseases.
The next option is staking, which allows the plants to stay upright. If you stake your plants, you will be able to see the whole plant very easily, but this method also requires a lot of tying up so that the plant stays controlled and away from a neighboring plant. Metal, bamboo, or wooden stakes can be used, along with some cotton or hemp twine. Something to think about is that wood or any porous materials can have the potential to harbor fungal spores such as blight or septoria from the previous season. If you choose to use a porous material, they can be treated each fall with a dilute bleach solution (1:10 ratio) in a sprayer tank, soak the stakes until run-off.
If you have large rows of tomatoes that are of the same variety, you may want to try the Florida Weave method. Heavy-duty metal stakes are placed every five to six feet with three to five plants in between them. A strong poly twine is then woven between the plants and attached to the metal posts. As the plants grow taller, a new row of woven twine is added.
Another option for larger rows and high visibility is the use of trellising material or cattle panels attached and held into the ground by “T” stakes or rebar. This method makes for quick work, all that you need to do is carefully tuck the newly developed foliage through one of the squares on the panel every few days. Cattle panels run about 16 feet long, so this may not be something for the average home gardener with a small growing area.
In greenhouses and other controlled environments, high-string trellising is the choice of many. The high rafter bars of a greenhouse, tunnel, or hoop house make an excellent place to attach a pre-wound poly cording. The plants are attached to the string by clips at the base of the plant, then twisted and carefully clipped here and there to the string as the plant grows. To harvest fruit that has grown higher up on the plant, you simply retract the string’s coil and lower the plant to fit your reach.
The last and probably most common way of supporting tomato plants is by caging them. Your local hardware store will carry several different heights and strengths of tomato cages, in most cases the larger the better. The tiny little ones may be okay to use for a short determinate plant, but the majority of plants will need the largest cages possible. Some people choose to make their own out of concrete reinforcement mesh, which has openings of about five inches. (Large enough that a person can reach through the wire to harvest tomatoes inside the plant.) No tying is needed when using a cage, all you will have to do is train the plant up the cage.
Plant support choices can be based on the environment, your budget, sometimes even health restrictions. What is your favorite choice for plant supports?