Tomato Plant Support: Tomato Stakes, Cages, and Pruning

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In order for proper tomato plant care, it is important to stake tomatoes, provide plant supports like tomato cages, and carefully prune tomatoes. This helps to prevent branch breakage, provide air circulation, avoid slug damage, and keep tomatoes productive and healthy.

In this video, we explain how to choose the best plant supports for both bush and cordon tomato plants, and show how to make inexpensive homemade tomato cages. We’ve also added the video text below, at the request of our readers. After you watch this video, try our Almanac Garden Planner for free. Also, be sure to check out our Tomato Plant Page for more great tips on keeping your tomatoes healthy!

Plant Supports for Cordon and Bush Tomatoes: Staking Tomatoes

Cordon tomatoes (also known as vining or indeterminate tomatoes) grow to head height and beyond, so they need tall, sturdy plant supports. Bush (determinate) tomatoes grow up to about three feet high and therefore require less support. Falling in between are semi-determinate, or intermediate types of tall bush tomatoes. If you haven’t started to plant tomatoes yet and aren’t sure which type to pick, check out these Tomato Tips.

Cordon Tomato Plant Care

Cordon tomatoes can be grown against tall canes or garden stakes or in a greenhouse, twisted around string.

Firmly secure canes or garden stakes into the ground so they will be able to support the considerable weight of fruit-laden plants and withstand sudden gusts of wind. Tie stems to their canes at regular intervals, leaving enough slack for the stem to continue growing in girth. Secure a tie just above a truss, as this will support the weight of fruits better than a tie secured below a truss.

String supports are easy to set up. Dangle strong string directly from the greenhouse’s framework, or from a horizontal length of string secured and stretched taut between the gable ends. Remember that the greenhouse will be bearing the entire weight of the plants, so it must be strong enough for the job.

Loop the string around the rootball of the tomato plant at planting time to secure it in place. As plants reach up, twist the string around the stem, completing a full loop around the stem every two leaves. When you reach a truss, tuck the string above or behind it, never below it.

Cordon tomatoes can also be trained up a wigwam structure, one plant to each cane.

Bush Tomato Plant Care

In theory, bush tomatoes do not need support, but in reality plants can be weighed down onto the ground by heavy fruits, increasing the chances of diseases and slug damage.

Tie plants to sturdy garden stakes, or secure two parallel rows of horizontal canes to short, upright garden stakes hammered into the ground, and plant the tomatoes in between the two rows of canes. Lift up the branches and drape them over the canes as they grow.

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How to Make Tomato Cages

Tomato cages offer fuss-free supports for bush and semi-determinate tomatoes. It’s easy to make your own from concrete reinforcing mesh. The 6-inch squares will allow you to easily flex the mesh into a tube to make your cage. They’re inexpensive to make, and can be reused for many years.

Start by cutting a length of mesh five to six feet long. When rolled into a tube this will give a cage diameter of 18 to 22 inches—tight enough to support a plant, while giving it enough room to expand. Use sturdy wire- or bolt cutters to make the cuts, and wear gloves to protect your hands from snagging cuts.

Once cut, roll the length of mesh into a tube. Tie the ends together with heavy gauge wire or strong string, then cut off the bottom wire from the cage to leave just the vertical wires sticking out. These wires can be used to push the cage into the ground. For added stability, tie the cage to a vertical length of rebar or a similar sturdy upright. You can also pin the bottom wire to the ground with tent pegs.

Lower your tomato cage over the top of a plant and pull through any stray branches. As the plant grows, encourage growth upwards through the center of the cage, leaving fruiting trusses to grow outside of the cage to make picking even easier. At the end of the season, store the mesh flat to save space.

Pruning Tomato Plants

Tomatoes need regular pruning for the best results. This includes pruning trusses to remove excess fruits, removing unproductive lower leaves, and removing sideshoots (suckers). Pruning can even affect the flavor of your tomatoes, according to our page on Tomato Tips.

Truss Pruning

Thinning the fruits within the trusses of prolific fruiters such as cherry tomatoes will ensure those that remain grow larger. For varieties that bear particularly heavy fruits, such as the beefsteak tomatoes, thinning fruits to just three per truss will reduce the weight of the truss and make it less likely to snap away from the stem.

Prune trusses by snipping off the fruits with sharp scissors while they are still small.

Removing Leaves (Cordon Tomatoes)

Remove all leaves below the lowest ripening trusses of cordon tomatoes. These older leaves divert the plant’s energy away from producing more flowers and fruits, and reduce air circulation and light penetration. Remove the leaves by pulling the leaf sharply up, then down, so it comes away from the main stem. Support the stem as you do this.

Removing Sideshoots (Cordon Tomatoes)

Also known as suckers, sideshoots on cordon tomatoes distract the tomato from producing flowers and fruits, and must also be removed. Sideshoots appear at the point where a leaf joins the main stem. Remove them by wiggling them from side to side, then using your thumb to snap them out. Remove sideshoots while they are still young, working from the bottom of the plant up.

It needn’t take long to complete these simple training and pruning tasks; it’s a once-a-week job and at the same time you can inspect your plants and check on the progress of your ripening tomatoes. You can check our Ripeness Guide to determine when your healthy tomatoes are ready for harvest.

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I live in the tropics

Can the above specifications work for me?

Wonderful video. I learned a

Wonderful video. I learned a lot. It is now July and very hot in Louisiana. I recently had scoliosis surgery and was unable to plant anything this year. Do you think it is too late in the year to plant tomato seeds for a few plants this fall. Just curious.

Thank you for your kind

Thank you for your kind words. It will be too late to sow tomatoes for this year, but to find out what you can sow and plant now why not take out a 30 day free trial to our Garden Planner, which can give personalized sowing, planting and harvesting times for plants in your location. Visit http://gardenplanner.almanac.com/ and click on Start Garden Planner to start your free trial. Click on the Custom Filter button to the left of the plant selection bar on your plan and choose your sowing or planting month to show only plants that can be sown or planted during that month. 

I notice that we have some

I notice that we have some years we hardly get any tomatoes and some we've got so many that we can't keep up with them. I'm still unclear why, as it seems we do the same thing every year!

Gardening is indeed part art,

Gardening is indeed part art, part science! If you live in the Northeast (as we're guessing you do), it can be elusive due to the fickle weather. During those years when you have the benefit of a warmer-than-normal spring, the soil will get warmer, faster. This will give the tomatoes the boost they need to get ripe that season. Perhaps try warming the soil with black plastic to give it a good jump start? Or, you could try growing in a greenhouse or hoop house. Good luck! --Catherine, Almanac editor

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