Tomatoes are one of the most commonly grown vegetable plants. In fact, many gardeners have turned growing vegetables into a science. There is tons of information about tomato plants and seeds and the best practices to get the novivce grower ready to start growing.
For example, you may have read about whether or not to prune tomato plants, or whether you should grow heirloom tomatoes or hybrid tomatoes. The chances are, when deciding how to grow your plants, those things are a matter of personal preference.
Some other topics though, aren’t so much personal preference. You may also know that tomato plants commonly suffer from blossom end rot and need additional care to prevent that. The easiest way to prevent blossom end rot is to ensure that your tomato plants are getting plenty of calcium. It doesn’t matter how you provide it, as long as you provide it.
Another topic that comes up frequently in tomato discussions is how to support tomato plants (and if they even need support). Is this a topics that is a matter of personal preference or is this something that needs to be done? Let’s talk about this a little more.
Types of Tomato Plants and Growth
It’s important to understand first of all that there are many types of tomato plants. In fact, there are somewhere between 7,000- 10,000 varieties of tomatoes grown all over the world. In order to decide whether tomato plants need support or not, we need to talk about the tomato plant and how it grows.
There are two major growth patterns that tomato plants can have. Some tomato plants grow like a vine while others grow more like a bush. Have you ever seen inside of a tomato greenhouse?
Tomato greenhouses use a support system called a ‘lean and lower’ system. This support system is designed for the long vining tomatoes that are commonly grown in a greenhouse. These tomato varieties can produce vines that are up to 30 feet long.
In the ‘lean and lower’ system, the plants grow up towards the ceiling and are gradually leaned and lowered onto the ground as the plant grows. This works because only the top part of a tomato plant produces tomatoes. By lowering the bottom part of the plant onto the ground, workers can still reach and harvest the tomatoes at the top of the plant.
With that being said, you’re probably not going to grow a 30’ tomato plant in your garden. These tomato varieties are usually harder to find because they’re bred specifically for growing in a greenhouse. There are many varieties of tomatoes though that will produce a vine.
Many cherry tomatoes will produce a vine. Vining tomatoes don’t have a stem that is stout enough to support the entire plant. These tomatoes often get top heavy, even without having fruit on them. If they aren’t supported they can fall over, breaking the stem. When this happens, the plant may quit producing tomatoes because the top part of the plant can get cut off from the bottom part.
And remember, the top part of the plant is where the tomatoes are produced.
Vining tomato plants are on one end of the spectrum. Bush style tomato plants are on the other end. These tomato plants usually have a thicker center stem that can help to hold the plant upright better. Patio tomatoes are considered bush tomato plants. Bush style tomato plants are shorter and appear lusher and filled out than vining tomatoes.
Another way to look at the growth patterns of tomato plants is determinate vs. indeterminate. Many people get confused about this concept, but it’s actually very simple.
Determinate tomato plants will grow to a certain height and produce a certain amount of tomatoes, then die back. These tomatoes were bred to have more predictable harvests for commercial growers. Indeterminate tomatoes will continue to grow and produce tomatoes as long as the conditions are ideal.
An example of a determinate plant is the Parks Celebrity Hybrid Tomato (pictured right). The Parks Whopper is an example of an indeterminate tomato plant. Determinate tomato plants will have a predetermined size, so you’ll be able to choose the best support for your plant. Indeterminate tomato plants will continue to grow, so you’ll want to provide as much support for them as possible.
Do tomato plants need support?
The short answer to this question is yes. Nearly all tomato plants are going to need some type of support. The type of support though that you provide is a matter of personal preference. It also depends on the overall growth pattern of the plant.
Vining tomato plants will need as much support as you can give them to keep them from breaking. Bush tomato plants will also need support, especially once they get loaded with heavy fruit. Even tomato plants that have stems that are a couple of inches in diameter can break when loaded with tomatoes.
Providing support for tomatoes will keep your plants upright and help prevent breakages.
Best Support for Tomato Plants
The best way to support tomato plants is with Parks Wire Tomato Pen. The tomato cages that you see at many nurseries are not ideal. These funnel shaped wire cages are narrower at the bottom, making it difficult to put them around your plants.
They are also usually flimsy and are too short for mature plants. Your tomato plants will need more support as they get larger, so you’ll want to provide them with a support that will keep helping them once they are large.
The Parks Wire Tomato Pen is made with stout galvanized wire. These tomato pens are not funnel shaped; they’re the same size at the bottom as they are at the top. This helps increase air flow around the plant and doesn’t restrict lower plant growth. It also makes it much easier to put the pen around the plant.
One of the most common complaints about tomato cages is that the smaller bottom commonly seen on tomato cages is that the tomato plant ends up with broken stems when you put the cage around it. With the Parks Wire Tomato Pen, the bottom is large enough that you don’t have to worry about broke stems because there is plenty of space in the bottom of the pen.
Puttng the tomato pen on your tomato plants is a breeze. Simply unfold the cage and stick it into the soil, surrounding your tomato plant with support. The 48” size tomato pen is perfect for any tomato plant, whether it is a bush or vining tomato.
The earlier in the tomato plant’s life that you can put the tomato pen around them, the easier it will be. It’s much easier to put a pen around a small plant than a larger plant. When the tomato plant gets larger, it can be difficult to work it into the bottom of the pen without breaking stems. If you put the tomato pen on early, you’ll be able to do this quickly and easily by yourself. Wait too long and it becomes a two person project.
Another nice thing about the Parks Tomato Pens is that they fold up. When you’re done with them for the year, simply fold them flat to make it easier to store them. No more towers of tangled tomato cages!
This post was written by Shelby DeVore, the founder of Farminence. Shelby is a passionate gardener with 20+ years of experience gardening and growing food at home. She currently lives in West Tennessee on a 14-acre homestead with her husband, three children and too many animals to list.