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 Vining and Bush Tomatoes: Staking Tomatoes
Vining tomatoes (also known as indeterminate or cordon tomatoes) grow to head height and beyond, so they need tall, sturdy plant supports. Bush tomatoes (also known as 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.
Vining/Indeterminate Tomato Plant Care
Vining 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.
Vining tomatoes can also be trained up a wigwam structure, one plant to each cane.
Bush/Determinate 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.
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.
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 (Vining Tomatoes)
Remove all leaves below the lowest ripening trusses of vining 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 (Vining Tomatoes)
Also known as suckers, sideshoots on vining 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.