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The Best Types of Trellises For Tomatoes

If planning your vegetable garden is an annual task, then you know different plants require different things. Some plants grow happy and healthy with very little help while other crops, like tomatoes, need some extra support. The weight of the fruit tomatoes means extra support from a specific source is almost always needed. From wire tomato cages, to stakes, to commercial tomato cages, tomato clips, and other tomato supports, nearly all of the options on the market have one thing in common: they are all forms of trellises for tomatoes.

Trellising tomatoes is a method that has been used for years for nearly every variation of tomato plants out there. From beefsteak to heirloom tomatoes, to large trellised cherry tomatoes, most tomato plants, if not all, will happily grow on some form of trellis. Luckily, everything you need to create a system that is right for your plant or bush varieties is available to you at garden centers, a hardware store, or big box home improvement store.

With some background information and a push in the right direction, you'll be set up to grow grocery store quality tomatoes all summer long. 

Why Tomato Plants Need a Trellis

So why exactly do your tomato plants need a tomato trellis in the first place? If this is your first year trying to make tomato plants grow successfully, there may be some factors you haven't thought of yet. First off–tomato plants are heavy.

Weight

A large heirloom tomato can easily break and bend fragile stems. Some tomato varieties are larger than others. But nearly all of them need a helping hand. This often comes in the form of a tomato cage, wooden stakes, or a specifically designed tomato trellis or sturdy structure.

Weather

The sheer weight of the fruit isn't the only benefit of ensuring your tomato plant grows on a support system. The extra backbone provided will make your tomatoes more resilient to wind, rain, and bad weather.

Dirt and Diseases

When growing fragile or thin skinned fruits such as tomatoes, it's highly beneficial to keep them elevated. Soil borne diseases or fungal diseases that start in the soil can easily invade the plant. Keeping your fruit off the ground with a tomato trellis, tomato cages, metal t posts, or string support, will keep your crops high during the growing season. Therefore, keeps them fresh for you to pick once they ripen.

The result? More tomatoes that are high quality and ready to eat. If the purpose of your home garden is to grow your own food, take the extra time. The effort of creating a tomato trellis or or tomato cages will pay off.

What to Consider before Choosing a Trellises for Tomatoes

Number of Plants

The trellis you prefer for growing tomatoes will rely largely on the number of tomato plants you have. If you have, for example, just a few heirloom tomatoes, or two plants you're trying to keep alive, then a few basic wire tomato cages can work as a great solution for you.

On the other hand, if you have ten or more plants, you may take your efforts to grow tomatoes a bit more seriously.

If this is the case, you should look into creating a longer option. A long row of string trellis for a whole flock of tomato plants should be adequate depending on tomato varieties. Another example of this is called the Florida weave. Create the Florida weave by weaving twine between cedar stakes or metal posts .

Then, your growing herd of plants is woven between the stakes and the string trellis. This allows them to spread while making the most out of the fence material support.

Determinate Tomatoes vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

One of the most important things that goes into making a decision about the type of tomato trellis you use in the type of tomato plants you are trying to grow. There are two different kinds of tomato plants: determinate tomatoes, and indeterminate tomato plants.

Another way to think about this is vining tomatoes vs bush tomatoes. Vining tomatoes are also called indeterminate tomatoes. This variety of tomato plant grows and sets fruit throughout the season. Indeterminate tomatoes grow until cold kills them, or sheers cut them back. This means a larger tomato trellis is a must.

Indeterminate Tomatoes

Indeterminate varieties tend to have a much longer growing season, and need extra support for all of that additional budding fruit. This can help you pick what tomato trellising solution is right for your garden. If you are growing one or many indeterminate varieties of tomatoes in your backyard, hit up your garden center for a large tomato cage with a sturdy frame.

After a long summer of growing tall and strong

Determinate Tomatoes

On the other hand, determinate varieties of tomatoes, also called bush tomato plants, grow for only a very brief, short-set season. This means this type of tomato plant will not grow as large, and therefore needs a smaller trellising system than indeterminate tomatoes. Determinate varieties don't grow as many feet tall as indeterminate, and are not in as much need of taller cages, either.

Types of Tomato Plant Trellises

Depending on your variety of tomato plant, and how many you're planting, you have quite a few trellising options on the market. Make things super flexible with a string trellis, or bring the plants right up against something solid, where concrete reinforcing wire becomes a solid base.

Wire Tomato Cages

One of the most commonly used trellis mechanisms is the tomato cage. A tomato cage is typically a cylindrical galvanized wire design that anchors directly into the soil of raised beds or contained plantings. A standard tomato cage stands about 4' tall and are most often used with indeterminate varieties of tomatoes.

Taller cages can be found or built, but for most plant varieties, 4' should be enough. Placing a tomato cage is simple. When the plants are seedlings, place the tomato cage over them either in a raised bed or in the containers. As the plant grows, it will naturally weave through the cage and be supported. If your tomato plant begins to outgrow its cage, using additional support elements such as wood stakes or metal can help any additional growth.

By using a tomato cage, you are reducing the need for stakes, wire, string, or other frames. Aside from timing up uneven or sagging branches with particularly heavy fruit, you should be good to go for the season.

DIY Cages

While you buy a tomato cage at nearly any big box department, hardware store, or garden centers, you can also make your own. All you need for this project is galvanized page wire and heavy duty wire cutters. Wire of this variety is available in two standard heights: 4' and 6'. If you know your variety of tomato tends to grow tall, opt for the larger wire.

To form, cut each piece of wire into a cylinder. Bend the fire and fasten the cut end over the leading end of the wire to prevent nicks and sharp edges. You can then use your DIY cage in the same way you would use a premade tomato cage.

When the growing season is over, these cages can be unwrapped and stored flat in your garage or basement. This is great for people who want to reduce the amount of money spent purchasing new garden equipment year over year.

What to Look For In a Tomato Cage

If you are buying a commercially made tomato cage, look for a few quality characteristics. The best made tomato cage will be a tapered cylinder, or a cone shape. The narrow end will sit flush to the ground to support the shorter branches of a seedling plant.

It may be hard to form a DIY cage into this same, optimal cone shape. However, you can use additional support materials to secure young branches as they grow.

Hanging Fences

Trying to grow a whole lot of tomatoes at once? Are they all indeterminate types? If your plants have more than one leader head, then providing horizontal support is as important as giving vertical support. In this case, a tomato cage will not provide the room that your plant needs.

Instead, try a hanging fence style. To do this, construct a frame that is securely attached to a length of fencing or netting. The length of this frame will be determined by the amount of plants you have, but six to eight feet is a great place to start.

Once your plants begin to grow past the seedling stage, use weaving twine or clips to secure your plants to the hanging fence. Make sure not to tie any plants too tightly. This could cut off nutrient supply to the stalk, choking the plant and killing or stunting its growth.

Stake Fencing

If you have a combination of tomato varieties that you'd like to grow in the same spot, you're going to need another solution. Using stake fencing can allow your tomatoes to coexist, whether they are bush or vining.

The design of a stake fence is simple. Wire fencing is welded and then attached with nails to a sharp, wooden stake or t post. Plants are then attached using ties. Adjust the size or width of your build in accordance to the height and length of your tomato plants.

String Trellis

If you're growing your plants in a place with a ceiling, such as a greenhouse or underneath a deck, you have yet another tomato trellising option. This option is incredibly affordable, and uses only one or two materials. Welcome to string trellising.

String trellising is an inexpensive and easy to prepare system. In function, strings are tied to the slats of your deck or rafter of your greenhouse. These strings hang down, and tie to plant branches and stems as they grow, offering vertical support. The final result is a trellis that looks half-puppet, half thrifty, and one hundred percent effective.

Horizontal String Trellis

The string trellis method can also be applied horizontally. Instead of hanging strings vertically, attach your twine or string to mimic a horizontal pole frame. Set up stakes at either end of your row of plants, and then every three or four feet along the row.

Stakes can be made of wood, metal, or even another material you have on hand, such as pvc pipe. As plants grow, weave the twine horizontally along these wood, metal, or pvc pipe poles, catching the plants and expanding the system as they grow.

Stake/String Combo

If you don't like the idea of relying purely on cages, strings, or stakes, try a trellising method that combines them all. The stake and string combination is similar to a vertical string trellis. The only difference is that it includes a staked frame to offer additional support to young plants.

Choosing Materials

When choosing a trellis or building your own, it's important that you not only use the right design, but the right materials as well. Not all wood is created equal for outdoor projects. If you've ever had a wood deck, or wooden outdoor furniture, you already know this. The best materials for gardening utility will be sturdy, weather resistant, and pest resistant.

Wood

When choosing wooden staking, opt for a rot resistant and moisture resilient variety. Cedar is great for this purpose. Stakes made of cedar last years, meaning you can reuse season after season. Help out your tomatoes and your pocketbook at the same time!

Metal

When it comes to metal materials, you should always be careful to choose galvanized mesh or wire. This will hold up better against moisture and won't bend or break under the weight of your plants. Make sure that any wire caging you implement is gentle on your tomatoes. Sharp wire can cut or gauge tomatoes, damaging your fruit.

String

If you are trying out a string trellis, or need material to tie stalks, not all twine is the same. Crafting twine or twines that are laden with plastics present unforeseen problems. Not only are plastic coated strings often harder to secure, but they are not ec0-friendly.

Instead, help the planet by using biodegradable materials such as jute or sisal. At the beginning of the season, add compost from your pile to help your tomato variety grow big and strong. At the end of the season, throw the entire plant skeleton in the pile, string and all. Using earth-friendly string may cost a bit more, but it's kinder to the planet, and creates less work for you at the end of the growing season.

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