How to train a tomato plant to grow upright and not outwards?

There is no wrong or right method to show your love for your tomatoes! Some gardeners let their tomatoes grow wild and bushy in cages, while others prefer to keep them pruned, tidy, and trained. It all relies on you. Personal choice, growing space, tomato varietals, and level of involvement . We’ve utilized a combination of methods over the years – sometimes several different styles in one season!

Whichever technique you choose, all tomato plants need some kind of support as they develop. Tomatoes are inherently tall, bendy, and incapable of standing straight on their own – particularly when loaded with fruit! Now, let’s look at six alternative methods for supporting or training tomato plants. This article will explore the pros and cons of using cages, stakes, trellises, string, the Florida weave, lower and lean system, and more – with tips and photos on how to execute each method!

But first, let’s cover the fundamentals regarding tomato types and pruning. If you need more tomato tips in general, be sure to check out our tomato grow guide.


Supporting and Pruning Determinate vs Indeterminate Tomatoes

It’s key to know the difference between determinate and indeterminate tomatoes when considering a support system or training style – because the two have considerably different needs and preferences! Each tomato plant description or tag should include whether the variety is determinate (D) or indeterminate (ID). There are also semi-determinate types that combine the best of both worlds.

Determinate tomatoes, also known as “bush tomatoes” , stay far smaller in dimensions (growing up to three or four feet tall). They bear the bulk of their fruit over a shorter period of time, and generally have a shorter growing season and lifespan. Tomatoes that have been determined do not like to be pruned , and doing so will greatly reduce their output. Plan to support your determinate tomatoes with a modest cage, the Florida weave, or stakes (but not pruned to a “single leader” up the stake).

On the other hand, indeterminate Tomatoes continue to grow well over 6 feet tall (and frequently higher) and yield fruit for many years. long growing season – at least till frost hits. Indeterminate tomatoes are the most common among home gardeners, and take well to pruning (But you are not need to). Indeterminate tomatoes will spread out on the ground and/or shatter if not supported properly. With indeterminate varieties, you may utilize any of the tomato support methods discussed below.

What happens when a huge indeterminate variety is not trimmed. The massive bush/vine in the backdrop is a Sungold cherry tomato plant. Several of its leaders are being held up by a trellis and stakes, while other limbs are sprawled out all around it. It was a bit of a jungle, but we got SO much delicious fruit from it.

How to Prune Tomatoes: Removing Suckers

Several of the tomato support systems described below require some level of pruning, so let’s refresh on what that means! Tomato plant pruning include removing excess side branches – also known as “suckers” . Suckers always grow out from the main stem just above a leaf branch, as shown in the diagram below. It is not to be confused with a flower bract, which develops somewhat higher up the stem!

To remove tomato suckers, simply pinch and snap them off. For bigger suckers, use a clean set of pruning snips. Do not remove the main stem (the terminal growth point) or top the plant, and avoid removing flower or fruit bracts. As the season progresses, you may wish to prune unproductive lower leaf branches as they yellow and fade.

Taking care to remove all of the suckers will result in a single long tomato vine. Removing all but one sucker will leave you with two “leaders”. Or, you can remove just some of the suckers, resulting in several leaders but an overall more manageable plant. It is preferable to remove suckers when they’re still nice and small – before they start drawing energy from the rest of the plant. (There’s a reason they’re called suckers!)

Suckers that are allowed to develop into enormous new secondary vines produce more and more branches, flower bracts, and suckers of their own. The end result is a more bushier tomato plant with more fruit per plant! Nevertheless, the fruit itself may be smaller and of worse quality when compared to a trimmed tomato plant. Pruned tomato plants can focus all their energy into growing fewer but higher-quality fruit instead. They may also ripen sooner!

Two leaders on a young tomato plant. Since we’re using a combination of stakes and the Florida weave in this bed, we’ll let each plant grow two or three leaders, but prune off the rest of the suckers.


1) Cages

Cages are a traditional method of tomato support. They are also the most straightforward and low-maintenance alternative! You can basically let your tomato plants grow naturally in a cage, no pruning required . The only task you’ll need to do is occasionally (and gently) tuck branches in and up to keep them inside the cage as much as possible. You could also provide a stake in the center of the cage to support the main stem, though it’s usually not necessary.

Tomato cages take up more room than other tomato support systems, but they’re ideal if you’re just cultivating a few tomato plants! Locating decent, practical tomato cages may sometimes be difficult. The majority of pre-made tomato cages are tiny and fragile. Alternatively, good huge ones might be rather expensive! An average tomato cage may be sufficient for determinate bush tomatoes (and work great for peppers, eggplant, or tomatillos) but you’ll want a large, extra-sturdy cage to support wily indeterminate tomatoes. We create our own and will utilize them for many years.

2) Single Stake or String Method

Another popular option is to train tomatoes up a single tall stake, or up a string connected to an overhead beam. This tomato support system is great for vining indeterminate tomato cultivars. requires heavy pruning. Most (if not all) lateral branches or “suckers” are destroyed as they develop, leaving just the main branch, one leader stem (Maybe two). As the tomato grows taller, secure the main vine to the stake or string with ties or tomato clips. This soft coated garden wire is one of our favorites.

The tomato training technique with a single stake (or thread) is ideal for small spaces , or for gardeners who wish to cultivate a wide range of plants, many Plants of tomato. Keeping the plants well-pruned means you can space them much closer together: a foot or so apart instead of several feet. So, it’s possible to fit many more tomato plants in a single garden compared to using cages, plus have room for other companion plants around their base.

The one disadvantage of trimming tomatoes to a single vine is that each plant produces tomatoes, fewer tomatoes (But of higher grade). Lacking excess foliage, the fruit may also be more susceptible to sunburn or scalding.

Tomatoes trimmed and taught to a single leader may produce more fruit since the plants are concentrating all of their energy on growing up rather than out, grow very, very tall – easily reaching ten feet or more – so be prepared! As a result, choose stakes that will reach at least 6 feet above ground once placed (such as 8 foot stakes). The lower and lean strategy is one method for dealing with extremely tall tomatoes, as discussed further below.

3) Lower and Lean

The “lower and lean” approach is an excellent method for training and supporting tall indeterminate tomato plants while keeping the fruit within reach! This strategy is prevalent in commercial greenhouse settings, but it is also gaining appeal among amateur gardeners. The tomato is meticulously staked and stringed in the same way as the single stake/string technique mentioned above. pruned to just a single leader and are closely spaced. Each tomato vine is trained up a vertical string – either with tomato clips, or by gently winding the string around the stem.

Suspended from some sort of horizontal support above (such as a wood beam, A-frame, pipe, electrical conduit, or other clever DIY solution), each string is connected to a tomato below – usually gently tied around the base of the plant. Each string also contains several feet of additional slack at the top, which may be left hanging or maintained tight in a spool. Use natural twine or garden string of your choice. These tomato spool hooks are designed specifically for the lower and lean system!

As the tomatoes grow taller and taller, let slack out of the line from the top to literally lower and lean the plants down and out. You won’t have to worry about your tomatoes growing higher than their support system this way! Remove leaf branches from the bottom portion of the vines as they’re lowered and possibly end up laying along the ground.

4) The Florida Weave

The Florida Weave is an excellent method for training a large number of tomato plants. in a row . The goal is to essentially sandwich the plants between layers of string , keeping them straight and sustaining large fruit branches. It’s sometimes referred to as “basket weaving” tomatoes. With this system, you can choose how heavy or light you wish to prune the plants. The more you prune them, the closer you can space the plants – ranging from 1 foot to several feet apart.

Begin by inserting tall robust stakes or t-posts between each plant to form a Florida weave tomato support system (or every other plant). For further support, a stake may be placed at the base of each tomato. Then, every foot or so, weave horizontal rows of garden thread or natural twine between the posts. As you proceed, tie and fasten the string at each stake. Start with many rows of thread and tuck the plants between them as they develop, or add additional layers of string to the top as required throughout the season. Please see the diagram below.

The Florida weave provides support for both leaders and side branches, requires less intensive.  Pruning is more effective than a single stake or lower and slim approaches. It also takes up less room than housing each plant in its own cage. The Florida weave is great for both determinate, semi-determinate, and indeterminate tomatoes alike.

A raised garden bed with an A-frame support structure of the tomatoes growing in the raised bed. Many tomatoes dot the plants, along with some basil, marigolds, and bachelor buttons.
This combination of Florida weave and center stakes has worked well. It works best if your diligent about tucking the side branches/suckers up between the horizontal twine at least weekly!

5) Flat Trellis

Tomatoes may be trained easily up a vertical flat trellis. You can use a small trellis to support a single tomato or two, a larger trellis behind a row of many tomato plants, or even plant tomatoes along both sides of a trellis (but offset from one another). As the plants develop, use twine, soft plant ties, or clips to hold the branches to the trellis. Tomatoes, unlike peas and beans, will not attach to structures on their own.

Like the Florida Weave, you can prune the tomatoes as much or little as you please . The trellis may hold several tightly spaced tomatoes with just one or two leaders per plant, comparable to the single stake approach. Give the plants a bit more room and let most of the suckers develop, pinning them back to the trellis as well. If the plants get too bushy and wild, we’ve tied string horizontally across the front of the trellis, similar to a Florida weave, to keep them pulled back.

Looking for trellis ideas? Learn how to make simple, inexpensive, and sturdy DIY trellises In this article, remesh wire panels are used. We use them to grow pole beans, peas, passionfruit, cucumbers, and other vegetables. Hog and cattle panel are also popular options to create a homemade trellis. Nylon mesh netting strung between stakes is another affordable, lightweight trellis option.

A two part image collage, the first image shows four raised beds formed into the shape of a large U. There are smaller tomato plants along the backside of the beds, backed up against the side of a house. There is a flat trellis along the backside that is held in place with stakes. The second image shows the same garden area after the tomatoes have grown in. They are now growing towards the roofline of the house, many bright red tomatoes are popping through against the dark green foliage of the plants. Support tomatoes in various ways to work in your space. With our flat DIY tomato trellis, you can tell whether it’s early or late in the season. We started out with a single panel of remesh in each bed (on its side, about 4 ft tall by 7 feet wide) secured to stakes, and then added an additional panel to the top as the plants grew taller. For more lasting, permanent installations, we also prefer to create excellent wood trellis frames around remesh wire!

6) Arched Trellis

Growing tomatoes on an arching trellis is a last alternative. The idea is essentially the same as the flat trellis method we just explored, but with even more drama and flair ! Who doesn’t like an arching garden trellis, particularly one laden with delicious fresh tomatoes?! Since determinate types are too short and bushy to stretch over the arch, this technique is best suited to indeterminate tomatoes. Plant ties may be used to keep branches in place, and vines can be carefully tucked and weaved through trellis apertures.

And that concludes this round-up of tomato support methods

Friends, I hope this book has provided you with a wealth of knowledge, motivation, and ideas for training and supporting your tomatoes. As you can see, there are a plethora of alternatives – much more than we discussed today! You can get creative and combine various styles like we do, or get crafty and build other unique support structures of your own.

Please share your favorite tomato training styles in the comments below, and feel free to ask any questions! If you found this article to be valuable, please consider sharing or pinning this post. Thank you for joining us today. We wish you a very productive tomato season!

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