NGA Articles: Trellising and Training Tomatoes

Trellising and Training Tomatoes (cont)

By: Shepherd Ogden


A variation on the single stake is the A-frame lean-to. Use 2 x 4s for end posts and top; 1 x 2s or 2 x 2s elsewhere. When end posts are sunk slightly in the ground, it is self-supporting. The base is 3 to 4 feet, and the vines are trained, one every 18 to 24 inches, up both sides.
  • Neat and attractive
  • Very wind-resistant
  • Not necessary to prune plants severely
  • Expensive


Similar to methods used in the Far East and the Caribbean, this system uses 3/4-inch, 8-foot bamboo stakes lashed together with twine. Set the canes 2 feet apart in every direction and then lean them together.
  • Simple, modular, and adaptable to large and small, northern and southern gardens.
  • Easy to take down in fall
  • Relatively expensive in areas where bamboo is not available

Quonset Hut Cage

Common on Spanish farms, this system uses concrete reinforcing wire. Place hoops over the plants when they're 6 inches tall. They'll grow up through the wire grid and bear fruit on the top, away from pests. A row cover fastened over the cage at planting time makes a small grow tunnel and promotes early fruiting.
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Good for determinates
  • Good for large plantings
  • Very wind-resistant

Ties That Bind

Use untreated twine to attach your tomatoes to the trellis. That way at the end of the season, you can simply cut the lines at the top and the tomato stems at the bottom, roll up the whole affair, and throw it on the compost pile.

Basic Tomato Cage

Place these widely available funnel-shaped wire supports over plants when they're 6 inches tall; as plants grow, their branches drape over the cage, keeping fruits off the ground. Used world wide.
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Only for small determinate varieties
  • Not wind-resistant

Tastiest Tomatoes

Tomatoes' flavor quality is affected by the ratio of fruit to foliage. That means that the more plant there is for a given amount of fruit, the better the fruit will taste, all else being equal. The bush kinds, so loaded down with fruit on compact plants, just don't have enough flavor to go around. So if you want great-tasting tomatoes, grow only indeterminate types. And if you grow them, I recommend that you trellis them.

Convenience or Flavor?

The most basic distinction among tomatoes is between the bush and vine types. Bush tomatoes are called determinate, because genetic programming causes them to grow a certain number of branches and flower clusters and then stop, much the way that peppers and eggplants grow. Because of their fixed habit, they are considerably less trouble to grow than vining or indeterminate tomatoes. They are generally earlier as well. But bush tomatoes are usually less disease-resistant, and the flavor of a bush tomato will rarely match that of fruit from the larger plants. There just isn't enough plant to produce as good a fruit.

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