Using a tomato plant support and growing tomatoes vertically is a great way to encourage healthy plants, reduce the spread of diseases, and maximize production. In my garden I use a combination of tomato supports like tomato cages, tomato towers, and tomato trellises. Read on to learn the many benefits of using tomato supports and the best types for vegetable gardeners.
The below information is featured on Savvy Gardening thanks to the sponsorship of Gardener’s Supply Company. Gardener’s Supply Company is an employee-owned company that designs and builds many types of tomato plant supports as well as other innovative garden products.
7 Reasons to use a tomato plant support
There are numerous benefits to staking tomato plants, but the bottom line is that getting them off the ground is the best way to promote plant health. When a tomato plant isn’t supported by a cage, trellis, or tomato tower, the weight of the growing branches and fruits eventually cause it to topple over and lay on top of the soil. Here are 7 reasons to use a tomato plant support:
- To maximize light exposure – When a tomato is laying on the ground, many of the leaves are hidden beneath the plant. This reduces photosynthesis. Supporting plants means they’re upright and fully exposed to the sun.
- To encourage better air circulation – Good air flow speeds up how quickly the foliage dries after rain or irrigation. That’s important because wet foliage promotes the spread of plant diseases like early blight.
- To reduce the occurrence of soil borne diseases – As noted above, wet foliage can increase transmission of soil borne diseases. Plus, having plants lying on the ground puts the foliage in direct contact with potential pathogens.
- To reduce the occurrence of pests – Supporting tomato plants can also minimize damage from insect pests and slugs. Why? They’re less accessible to pests that have to climb up the plant to nibble on the leaves or fruits.
- To make harvesting easier – It’s much easier to harvest fruits from supported tomato plants.
- To fit more plants into your growing space – Growing tomatoes vertically means you can space plants closer and fit more into a garden bed. Ideal in a small garden!
- It’s easier to prune staked tomatoes – I prune my indeterminate tomatoes to direct growth and maximize production. When plants are supported, it’s much easier to prune suckers.
Which types of tomatoes need to be staked?
There are two types of tomato plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate, or bush, plants grow to a certain, pre-determined height and then set their flowers at the tips of the branches. The fruits all ripen around the same time. That’s ideal if you want to make a big batch of sauce, salsa, or can your tomatoes. Most determinate varieties grow 3 to 4 feet tall, although there are some that are super compact and only grow a foot or two tall. Indeterminate, or vining, tomato varieties form large plants, often 7 feet tall! This serious growth requires serious support. They produce their flowers and fruits on lateral shoots and continue to produce tomatoes from mid-summer until frost.
Which types of tomatoes should you stake? I stake both my determinate and indeterminate varieties because there are so many benefits to supporting tomato plants (see above). That said, the supports I use differ between the two types of plants. Below I detail the various types of tomato supports and the best ones to use for indeterminate and determinate tomatoes.
Tomato plant support options for the vegetable garden
When it comes to tomato supports, gardeners have many options. Popular choices include tomato cages, stakes, towers, and trellises.
Traditionally, wire tomato cages are used to support tomato plants. That said, many wire cages are flimsy and not tall or strong enough to support the height and weight of a mature tomato plant. This is particularly true for vigorous indeterminate tomato plants. Cages are best used for compact tomato varieties that only grow 3 to 4 feet tall. Use cages for both garden and container-grown tomato plants.
To ensure success, look for heavy-duty tomato cages like the Gardener’s Vertex Lifetime Tomato Cage, which is lightweight and durable, made from rust-proof aluminum. The cage is 18 inches in diameter and 43 1/2 inches tall (33 3/4 inches tall when installed). This is a stylish support and adds visual appeal to the garden. The innovative design means you can set it up around young seedlings or well established plants. Plus, it folds flat for easy storage.
Provide superior support to garden tomatoes with Titan Tall Tomato Cages. These self-staking, steel-cored supports come in a set of three and easily keep vigorous indeterminate tomato plants off the ground. They measure 80 inches tall and 19 1/2 inches in diameter, and the large grid makes tending plants and harvesting fruits a snap!
Tomato stakes are a handy way to keep tomato plants upright. You can use wood, bamboo, metal, or other types of tomato stakes. For traditional wooden stakes or bamboo poles, you’ll need to tie new growth to the support every 10 to 14 days. Use plant ties or garden twine, looping the tie around the stake and then lightly securing it to the stem.
I’m a big fan of spiral tomato stakes which offer sturdy support to tomato plants and are also an attractive garden feature. Rainbow Spiral Supports are 5 foot tall stakes that come in bold shades of red, orange, yellow, blue, and green. They have a corkscrew twist that allows you to wind the growing tomato plant into the spiral. So easy! Stakes are space-saving supports that are ideal for training indeterminate tomatoes upright. That means you can fit more tomato plants into the garden.
Tomato towers are tomato cages on steroids! Most look like extra-tall tomato cages and are ideal for supporting tall indeterminate tomatoes. There are also compact tomato towers available for determinate tomatoes. A tomato tower is a tomato plant support option that holds plants securely on all sides and has large openings which makes it easy to harvest ripe fruits.
The Gardener’s Supply Company Tomato Towers come in a convenient set of 2 and are made from powder coated, 10-gauge steel wire. They’re 14 1/4 inches square and 65 inches tall (53 inches tall when installed). When you use a tomato tower to support determinate and indeterminate types of tomato plants you don’t need to use ties to secure the new growth to the frame. The design of the structure cradles the growing tomato plants – less work for the gardener! They’re also super quick and easy to install and fold flat at the end of the season for winter storage. Oh yeah, they also come in three different colors – green, red, and blue – to spice up your tomato patch.
Zenith Folding Garden Supports come in a set of two with two size options: medium and tall. Both are made from powder-coated tubular steel. The medium supports are 44 inches tall and perfect for determinate tomatoes. The tall ones measure 84 inches tall and provide strong support to indeterminate tomatoes. As the plants grow you can use plant ties or garden twine to secure the plants to the structure. The Zenith Folding Garden Supports come in three colors: black, celestial blue, and aurora yellow for a fun pop of color. They’re easy to set up at the start of the season and fold for storage at the end of the season.
Tomato ladders offer heavy-duty support to large tomato plants. The Gardener’s Supply Company Tomato Ladders are highly reviewed and come in a set of three. Each ladder has the strength to hold over 100 pounds and cradle plants better than a single tomato stake. These tomato ladders are made from 7 mm steel uprights with a weatherproof coating. They measure 57 inches tall and 6 inches wide and 6 inches deep.
I typically grow two rows of five tomato plants in each of my 4 by 8 foot raised beds. Over the years I’ve used individual stakes, cages, ladders, or towers to support each plant, but I also love building a DIY tomato trellis. Why? It supports all my plants at once. A tomato trellis also allows me to practice a trellising technique called Florida weave. This is an effective way to support a row of tomatoes. As the plants grow, I secure a length of natural twine by tying it to one trellis post and then using a basket weave around each plant in the row. The end of the twine is then tied to the other stake at the opposite end of the trellis. Repeat the weave with a fresh row of twine every few weeks to support new plant growth.
You need a strong trellis to support a row of tomatoes and the DIY Double Tomato Trellis (pictured above) provides excellent stability. I made mine in about a half hour using the Connector Kit from Gardener’s Supply Company which uses lengths of 3/4 inch diameter EMT pipe you can purchase from a building supply store.
More tomato plant support options
To learn even more about tomato plant supports and the many types of products available to vegetable gardeners, visit the Gardener’s Supply Company website. Big thanks to Gardener’s Supply Company for sponsoring this article and for their continuing dedication to creating innovative and useful garden products.
To see these tomato supports in action, check out this video:
Learn more about growing a bumper crop of homegrown tomatoes in these articles:
- 9 tomato pruning mistakes to avoid
- When to pick tomatoes for maximum flavor
- How often to water tomato plants
- 22 of the best tomato companion plants
- Boost the tomato harvest with plant covers
Do you have a favorite type of tomato plant support you use in your garden?