Growing tomatoes can be a lot of work. There’s a lot of care, maintenance and support required. And by support, I mean literal support.
Depending on the type of tomato plant you grow, you might have to use a stake, a trellis, or even a cage to keep the tomato vines growing upwards and away from the ground.
A trellis is the best support for indeterminate tomatoes. Unlike cages, a trellis takes little space while allowing more than one tomato vine to grow together. It’s easier to train the tomato plant runners on a trellis than on a stake or a cage. Trellises are reusable, need little maintenance, and provide better protection for the vines against diseases, while also giving you easy access to the ripe tomatoes.
You only need to worry about supporting the plants when growing indeterminate tomatoes. Read more to find out the key differences between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes and the pros and cons of each tomato support method.
Tomato Cages, Stakes & Trellises: Which Is Best?
When it comes to indeterminate tomatoes, you need to choose the right support system to keep the vines away from the ground. If you’re new to growing tomatoes, then you’re probably wondering which support system is the right one for you.
Moreover, you might be asking yourself whether staking tomatoes is necessary in the first place.
Do You Have To Stake Tomatoes?
It’s often tempting to let plants have their way and just follow the genetic code in their cells. But that’s not always a great idea, especially with indeterminate tomatoes. These tomato plants don’t have hard stems that keep the foliage growing upward. Instead, the vines sprawl on the ground.
There are many problems with that.
- The vines take up more space in your garden as they spread out.
- The tomatoes develop near the ground for insects and rodents to ravage the crop before it’s even ripe.
- Tomatoes touching the soil will rot quickly.
- It’s hard to maintain or feed the vine and even harder to find the ripe tomatoes buried under the dense foliage.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate Tomatoes
Besides the different sizes, shapes, and colors, tomatoes are classified by the plant type itself. There are two types of tomatoes: determinate or bush tomatoes and indeterminate or vining tomatoes.
Depending on the tomato growing space you have, you can pick the right type for you. The tomato type you choose also determines how long a tomato takes to grow. Bush tomatoes start producing fruits within 30s days.
Vining tomatoes might take up to 50 days before the first tomatoes develop. Here’s the main difference between the two tomato types.
- These are small tomato varieties that grow between 2 to 3 feet tall.
- They yield an early harvest and the tomatoes get ripe together.
- Leaf production diminishes once the berries start to develop.
- These are the best types to grow in containers or limited gardening space.
- You can harvest the whole crop within 4 weeks.
- They need more space than bush tomatoes, so only grow them in the garden.
- The average vine grows to about 6 feet tall and needs a support system such as a trellis.
- The tomatoes ripen in the late summer and early fall.
- The vines don’t stop growing after flowering and they have dense foliage.
- Harvesting is extended throughout the season as few tomatoes ripen at one time.
One way to support your indeterminate tomato vines is to install a cage around each plant. This should be a sturdy cage made of metal with reinforced concrete to support the weight of the mature vine.
A cage measuring 5 feet tall and 2 to 3 feet in diameter is ideal. The grid should be large to allow you access to the ripe tomatoes. Install the cage around the tomato sapling early on to avoid damaging the root system.
- Easy access to runners, suckers, and ripe fruits.
- Allows the foliage to shade the tomato fruits during development.
- The soil is shaded and has better moisture retention.
- You can protect the young vine against chilly conditions by wrapping plastic around the bottom of the cage.
- Without proper installation and reinforcement, cages are prone to fall over under the weight of the vine.
- A cage takes up more space than a stake or a trellis.
- The tomatoes take longer to ripen without exposure to the sun.
A tomato stake is easy to install and doesn’t take up much space. It should be sturdy and between 5 to 6 feet tall. Drive the stake one foot into the ground and about 5 inches away from the young vine. Keep it downwind from the vine so that the plant will lean against it when the wind blows.
- Easy to install and takes up less space.
- More sun exposure so the fruits ripen quickly.
- Easy access to the vine for pruning and harvesting.
- Not easy to train the vine up the stake.
- Excessive sun exposure could lead to tomato sunscald issues.
- Excessive pruning leads to less foliage and less yield.
A trellis is the best tomato support system especially if you’re growing more than one tomato vine. The trellis should be 5 feet high and as wide as you like. One trellis can support a few vines in a row alternating on each side.
Plant the tomatoes one and a half feet apart. As the vines grow, tie the stems to the trellis grid.
- A trellis takes up less space and can support more than one vine at a time.
- Easy to train, prune, and harvest the tomatoes.
- A trellis is reusable and can act as a fence and support other plants.
- It promotes dense foliage without cutting the sunlight off the fruits.
- It takes more work to install properly.
- A trellis is more expensive than a stake.
- Training the vines is a daily task.
When To Stake Tomatoes
Ideally, you’d want to install your tomato support even before sowing the seeds in the soil. That way you’ll avoid damaging the root system of the developed vine when digging the soil for the stake or trellis.
If you’re transplanting the vine, make sure the trellis is already in place. The only time you put the plant in the soil first is when you’re installing a cage.
How To Stake Tomatoes in Pots
Potted indeterminate tomatoes still need a stake to support the vines. Make sure the pot is sturdy and weighed down with a 3-inch layer of gravel at the bottom. Place the reinforced pot against a wall or a fence for extra support. You can use either a stake or a cage to support the vine in the pot.
Tomato Plant Supports Homemade
You don’t have to invest in a heavy trellis or a reinforced cage to keep your indeterminate tomatoes growing. It’s easy to come up with adequate support for the vines from materials lying around the tool shed.
Tomato Trellis Ideas
Tomato trellises come in different shapes and sizes. You can make your own trellis using chicken wire, a few stakes, and some pieces of wood. Here are a few tomato trellis ideas to get you started.
- Make a trellis and raised bed combo.
- Install a regular T-post trellis.
- A lean-to tomato trellis.
- PVC pipes with some wires can make a good trellis.
DIY Tomato Stakes
If you want to support your tomato vines with a stake without having to buy one, all you need is a long piece of wood or even a PVC pipe. Make sure it’s at least 5 feet tall.
How To Make Tomato Cages From Wood
To make a tomato cage from wood, you’ll need different pieces of wood measuring 5 feet. The long stakes will act as the frame while the small boards will hold the frame together. Nail or screw the pieces of wood together.
How To Make Tomato Cages From Wire
To make a cage from wire, you’ll need a frame for the cage to support the weight of the vine. I recommend a wood frame. Tie the wire around the frame firmly or nail it to the wood.
DIY Tomato Cage for Pots
To make a cage for potted tomatoes, you’ll need metal rods and solder them together in the shape of a cage. The end of the rods will rest at the bottom of the pot for extra support.
Should Tomato Plants Be Pruned?
You should prune your tomato plants to have larger fruits. Unpruned tomatoes are more prone to diseases.
Will Tomatoes Ripen Off the Vine?
Tomatoes will continue to ripen off even after you harvest them.
Indeterminate tomatoes need support to keep the vines off the ground and prevent tomato rot. A trellis is the ideal support for the vines as it takes up less space, can accommodate more than one vine and it promotes better growth and more light exposure for the fruits.