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Tomato Support Techniques

Tomato support
Most varieties of tomatoes benefit from some type of support. Shown here is the Tomato Cage Extension for the Tomato Success Kit.

Once your tomato seedlings are in the garden, the next big decision is how to support them. Tomatoes are vines, not bushes. Most varieties are healthier and more productive — as well as easier to pick — when they are supported up off the ground. So what'll it be: Stakes, cages, ladders or some other invention of your own?

Recently, we asked gardeners to vote for their favorite tomato support. With 3,000 responses, Tomato Cages came out on top with 59% of the vote. Tomato Ladders came in second at 17%. Most others are using supports of their own invention — everything from rebar and electrical conduit to wooden stakes.

Several years ago, market gardener Ruth Viste tested four different methods of staking tomatoes:

Her favorite? Tomato Ladders. She found that the ladders were the easiest to train vines to, the easiest to harvest from and the easiest to store.

Cindy Goodenow, the person responsible for sourcing most of our vegetable gardening products is a fan of the Tomato Ladders, too: "I have a small garden in my front yard. With ladders I can get more plants in a small space. They keep my garden tidy."

Kathy LaLiberte, our Director of Gardening, chooses Tomato Cages: "I set the cages up when I plant in May and come back when it's time to start picking. The plants are well-supported and I don't need to bother with pruning or tying." She even uses the cages to create an enclosure with garden fabric to protect new transplants during cool spring weather.

Frank H. of Newton, Mass.
Frank H. of Newton, Mass.: “The cherry tomato I grew in my Self-Watering Planter got so big so fast that I had to cobble together this frame support really fast. You can hardly see the framework, which is just as well cause it's pretty ugly. I'll be better prepared this year!”

Some gardeners tackle the problem like an engineer. The creative solutions we've seen are amazing. One gardener wrote: "I find that using half-inch electrical conduit pipe is the best way to stake up tomatoes. Buy a 10-foot piece of pipe, cut it in half. They are easy to drive in ground. If your plants exceed the top of your pipe, buy a coupling and add a short piece of conduit to the top. They last for years seeing they are galvanized and are easy to store, inside or out."

How tall should your support be? The height depends on the variety of tomato you're growing, and where you live. Tall, indeterminate varieties growing in a warm climate, such as Texas, may get to be 6 feet tall. A determinate variety in a cooler climate may get no more than 30" tall. Here's our support lineup:

As you go about choosing a tomato support, consider the following points:

  • Is the tomato a determinate or indeterminate variety? Indeterminate varieties, such as cherry tomatoes, will usually benefit from a taller support. Determinate varieties can often get by with something smaller.
  • Will you be pruning the "suckers" off your tomato plants to reduce the amount of foliage (use Ladders) or letting your plants grow unpruned (use Cages).
  • If you use one of the taller supports, such as the Tomato Ladders with an extension, you should think about adding extra stabilization — especially if your plants are in a windy site. Bamboo poles are good for adding support.

Whatever support you choose, you'll want something to tie up the vines. We like to use Soft Ties or Velcro tape, but torn-up T-shirts and nylon stockings work well, too.

Last updated: 7/9/19