How to Really Support Your Tomatoes

If I had given you this information at the start of the season, you wouldn’t have listened.  Those fresh smelling tomato seedlings that you purchased from a local grower at the Farmer’s Market were so small, innocent, and you had plenty of time to get some supports for them, they were barely growing.  Then, you turned your back…for a month or so, and bam!   They are huge and unruly, even if you did jam some tomato cages over them, you are glaring at your gardening neighbours suspecting that they must have given your tidy tomato seedlings miracle grow to get back at your for last year’s pumpkin incident.  I am also in denial about these things at the start of the season when I’m planting little 8″ high tomatoes seedlings.  As we are placing them in gardens, I astutely declare “They get huge! Give them at least 2 feet girth,” and then proceed to place them no further than 1 foot apart.  It’s hard to imagine how big they get, and sometimes we can’t choose 6 out of 8 plants to go in, so we cram all 8 in, hopefully throw some cheap metal cages around them, and excitedly watch them grow.  Until they keep growing.  And keep growing.  And all of a sudden, they are way too close and where did the cages go??

Here is what I have to say about various tomato support systems so you can plan for next season and possibly do some damage control this season:

1) The 3-Ring Tomato Cage:

Put on with such good intentions...look how little that guy is

Put on with such good intentions…look how little that guy is

This photo is of the “extra sturdy” cages that you can get at a hardware store. The regular cages are super flimsy and they just aren’t enough.  They certainly do help, and you must help the plant limbs to rest above the next highest rim, rather than hanging in space just below it.  The flimsy ones are a pain to store and they warp over a couple of years.  If you are going to get them, I do suggest investing in the extra sturdy ones, they will last longer and be more supportive.

2) The Spiral Stake:

tomato-spiral-stake

I tend to use these more than the cages these days because you wind the main stem of the plant up the stake as it grows.  It forces you to look closely at the plant (and often that coincides with pinching off suckers etc.).  What I like most about these is that they store so neatly and they are sturdy.  They are also available at Dollerama!  Eventually, you must support the outside limbs with something, so I usually make a terrible effort to tie them to the stake with nylons or ripped up tshirt.  I used to lie to myself and say that these were the best supports.  It’s a lie.  But they are a part of the best solution that you can buy.

3) The Best Solution that You Can Easily Buy:

The Cage + Spiral Stake

Here you will see that I have placed an extra sturdy cage around the tomato that is winding around the spiral stake.  This is the best solution that I can source easily and affordably so far without adding something to Dylan’s “To-Do” list.

4) The Home Made Tomato Box:

Tomato Box

If only Dylan’s “To-Do” list wasn’t 100 items long, or if only I was interested in using power tools.  I do wonder how much these will cost in lumber because you’d want something that won’t rot easily.  Easy if you happen to have scrap wood lying about somewhere.

There are many other home-made solutions, some involving cattle fencing and some involving more wood.  Google “Best Tomato Cages” if you’re handy.  If you’re like me (not handy), don’t google it – it’ll make you feel inadequate.

Does A Good Tomato Support Matter??

Yes and No.  A well supported plant might yield more fruit because when a tomato branch begins to grow horizontally, it focusses on foliar growth, rather than flower and fruit production.  So if you keep the branches lifted and looking up, they are more likely to develop fruit and less likely to take over your garden. There is a chance that an unsupported limb will become so heavy with tomatoes that it will break off of the main stem before the fruit have ripened. In that case, you will have to make fried green tomatoes.  Do keep the tomatoes from sitting directly on the soil because slugs, worms, and all sorts of critters will get to the fruit long before you do.  Give any fruit close to the soil a good cushion of mulch, straw, cardboard, nursery pot, etc.

But Kim!? It’s too late!  My tomatoes have woven together and become a shrub!  You can erect emergency stakes around unsupported plants still (ie. hockey sticks, wooden stakes, etc) and begin to tie limbs/plants to them.  If you don’t will you still get tomatoes?  Yes, you will.  You might get fewer than had you supported the plant, and you will need to help them somehow to make sure the limbs don’t break with the weight of the fruit.  In the event that a limb breaks while trying to add support, you can try “taping” it back together.  I had success with this recently.  See the white tape in the photo below.  There are tomatoes growing on the repaired limb!

 

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