Tomatoes are a favorite of backyard gardens, but they can become difficult to manage when they get large. Most gardeners choose to support tomatoes with a trellis or tomato cage to keep them under control, but many tomato cages sold at big box stores are not sturdy enough to support the weight of healthy plants. Good news: we have eight creative and custom ways to train your tomato vines up a trellis.
But first, let’s look at why tomatoes need the extra support and structure that a trellis provides.
Why do tomatoes need a trellis?
- Training your tomatoes up a trellis or other support will keep the fruit and the branches up off of the ground.
- Unsupported tomatoes can be harmed by disease, hungry pests, foot traffic, and physical accidents.
- Trellising your tomatoes helps you manage your space and grow more plants in a smaller area.
- It can help with weed control, watering, and fertilizing, and pest control.
- Giving tomato vines a place to grow helps provide circulation and sunlight to allow the fruit to ripen.
- It keeps the fruit clean and makes harvesting easier.
Now that we’ve convinced you to support your tomatoes, it's time to start considering what kind of trellis you might like to use.
Plan your support system early so you can get it in place before the tomatoes have grown very large. It’s much easier to set up your system before the roots have grown and can be easily damaged. It’s also easier to start training the plants up the trellis while the branches are thin and supple.
Determinate vs. Indeterminate
A standard tomato cage is usually enough for bush tomatoes, which are also known as determinate tomatoes. These plants grow into bushes of a fixed size that is manageable short. Determinate tomatoes have a short window for harvesting, usually about two weeks. This short harvest season can be overwhelming, so you may want to plan to do some canning if you’ve planted bush tomatoes.
Most heirlooms are indeterminate tomatoes. These tomatoes grow into vines and need a bit more support. These tomatoes have fruit that sets throughout the growing season, which makes them great as a slicing tomato.
Vining tomatoes need more pruning and maintenance throughout the season because the vines can reach heights of 6-8 feet. These tomatoes need a little more than your standard waist-high tomato cage.
8 Creative Ways to Trellis Tomato Plants
Here are just a few ways to trellis indeterminate tomatoes:
- Stakes - The simplest type of trellis can be made of very tall stakes driven into the ground. Some people even choose to use rebar as a tomato stake. Train your vine up this type of trellis by tying it with twine, string, or cloth.
- Posts and wire - Support posts are driven into the ground with wire mesh, fencing, netting, or even chicken wire attached. Vines can be woven in and out of the wires and attached with string or strips of cloth.
- Cone tomato trellis - This can be made from many types of support in a cone or pyramid shape, joined at the top with wire, twine, or other materials. You can gather branches for a rustic look, or use bamboo. This is a relatively inexpensive choice with materials that can also be easily disposed of or recycled at the end of the season. This style of trellis can have cross supports of the original material or twine.
- DIY tall tomato cages - Make your homemade cages to be much taller than the standard size. By making them yourself, you can also customize your cages to the expected height of your tomato vines. Construct them out of page wire by curving them into shape. They are also simple to deconstruct and flatten for easy storage at the end of the growing season.
- Wooden tomato cages -There are so many creative designs out there for those who love using natural materials like wood. They can be created in the shape of a ladder, tall rectangular boxes, or in a pyramid formation.
- Florida weave trellis - This type of horizontal string trellis consists of stakes driven along the row of tomato vines. Twine is woven between the plants and stake along a horizontal line. You can make this trellis taller by adding another layer of twine as the tomato plants grow and training the vines up the new layer.
- Vertical string frame - This popular and inexpensive system consists of a frame or support with twine or string hung vertically or at angles for an inverted V shape.
- Permanent frame - If you’re willing to invest in something more long-term, options like concrete supports and fencing or arch-style structures can be beautiful additions to your garden. Keep in mind that you’ll need to rotate your crops yearly with other types of vining vegetables to keep diseases and pests at bay. One frame won’t be enough for many years of productive tomato growing.
Written by Teresa Chandler
This kind of creative hands-on project opens the door for even more fun and success in your garden.