Many gardeners with plenty of space don't bother with tomato supports at all and let their tomato plants sprawl naturally. I can't follow this practice myself because each plant needs at least 15 square feet when allowed to grow this way and I don't have the garden space.
Not only do I not have the space but I also have slugs that damage any fruit that rests on the soil. I'm also concerned about my tomatoes developing soil rot and blemishes. For these reasons I always use tomato supports of one kind or another.
If you check for damage once in awhile and provide mulch or plastic for the tomatoes to rest on you can get around some of these problems. But I still like the advantages of vertical gardening.
When space is a problem, as it often is, then vertical supports are the answer. The advantages of vertical gardening using tomato supports don't stop with space-saving:
You can use your own ingenuity when supporting tomatoes. But some of the most common types of supports are listed below:
Wooden tomato stakes are the most common type of supports. The six- to eight-foot long one- to two-inch diameter posts are hammered into the ground about 4 inches from the tomato plant. The advantage of wooden stakes is their cost. The main disadvantage is that vines must be continually tied up and you'll have to learn about pruning tomato plants as well because the vines will have to be pruned to a single main stem.
For better support and less pruning you could also sink more than one wooden stake around each tomato plant. Nail cross pieces every foot or so to give you more places to tie the vines. Another method is to drill holes every six inches and slide dowel rods for cross members where they're needed. With four stakes you'll have a box-like structure that supports the plants very well. The disadvantage of the multiple stake method is the initial labor and cost of materials.
Everyone has probably bought and used the standard common three-foot galvanized tomato cages. They have also probably discovered the main problem with these -- they are too small and weak for most tomato plants; they sometimes break or tip over when the plant outgrows them. Manufacturers have stepped up and filled this need with all sorts of tomato support contraptions. You can buy much bigger and stronger cages these days or build a tomato cage yourself. Properly sized cages cost more but work much better.
I've seen more tomato trellises in use in the last few years. Maybe it's because a good vertical trellis design is included in the book Square Foot Gardening by Mel Bartholomew or just because they work. Tomatoes do very well on trellises. Just like the single-stake method though, vines should be pruned to a single main stem to keep them supported on a tomato trellis.
Tomato ladders are sturdy metal tomato supports that offer some of the advantages of tomato cages but are typically stronger and taller than cages. They look like two sides of a triangular cage. They are superior to simple tomato stakes because they don't need as much vine tying and the cross members provide a place to support heavy vines laden with fruit.
Do you have a different or unusual method of supporting tomatoes? Share it!
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