Providing Better Support for Tall Tomato Vines

June 15, 2010

The tomato trellis system that was featured in a video last summer has received lots of interest and many questions about how well it worked out, so today I want to offer another update on the results that I experienced last season.

First of all I can tell you that I’m definitely sticking with the tomato trellis and it worked far better than any tomato cage, stakes, tomato weaving system, or other training method that I have seen or tried out. There are a few modifications that I’ll make this year but they are totally optional and we’ll get to them a little later in this article. But first, if you haven’t watched the original tomato trellis system video take a minute to view it now before we continue with this update…

Here is what I loved about the new tomato trellis system:

  • Easy Setup – The only tools needed were something to drive the fence posts into the ground and a pair of pliers or wire cutters. Grab the tallest metal fence posts that you can find along with a spool of galvanized wire.
  • Reusable – You’ll be able to reuse the fence posts year after year and with a little care even the wire can be saved and reused. As far as storing the trellis during the off season, it takes up no space compared to a dozen tomato cages and the posts are actually durable enough to be left right in the garden if desired.
  • Great Support – My tomatoes loved the trellising system and had no problem staying upright and growing tall. Once they reached the top strand of wire they could grow along it horizontally or drape back down towards the ground.
  • Clean Harvest – The fruit was kept up off of the ground, away from slugs, and made things a breeze at harvest time. It was also easy to spot the tomatoes as they ripened without loosing them in the plant’s foliage.
  • Simple Removal – At the end of tomato season it was easy to unclip the spent vines, roll up the wire, and pull the fence posts to make way for fall vegetable crops.

Here’s what I didn’t like about the new tomato trellis system:

“Ummm, Nothing!”

Fine Tuning the Tomato Trellis the Second Time Around

Tomato Trellis Setup 300x225 Providing Better Support for Tall Tomato VinesOkay, now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, there are a few things that I’m doing differently this season. I’m using a 20 gauge, four-strand braided style of wire this time around and it seems a bit easier to work with. Last season I just wrapped the wire tightly around the posts, this year I’m using eye bolts and nuts to secure the wire to the end posts. And along the row I’m simply running the wire through the holes or cutouts that are prefabricated into the metal posts.

I did get a small amount of sagging as the tomato vines grew last time around, so these changes should help in that area and also provide a way to adjust the tension along the line if necessary. I also received feedback from others who use some type of stake and line setup to brace the end-posts, it can help to include that additional tension support but I’m not going to bother with it on my own trellis.

I’m also changing up with the type of mulch that I am using on the tomatoes this time around. Rather then a thick layer of straw, I decided to use the red plastic mulch that is reported to increase the production of tomato plants. All of these modifications are minor and the tomato trellis will work fine either way.

The Final Verdict on My Favorite Method of Taming Tomato Vines

Training Tomato Vines 300x225 Providing Better Support for Tall Tomato VinesWhat’s the ultimate proof of how much I love the new tomato trellis system? How about this… I’m finding other uses for the same technique in various parts of the garden! Venture over to the blackberry bed and you’ll find a tidy patch, thanks to a familiar looking system of posts, wires, and clips. Check out the asparagus ferns and you’ll notice some inconspicuous support keeping the ferns upright and contained.

So if you’ve been wondering how the tomato trellis system worked out for me, now you know. It gets a big seal of approval and high recommendations from the Veggie Gardening Tips heirloom tomatoes and they are looking forward another boost up this summer! Please let us know how it works in your own garden if you try this technique for yourself, or if you have your own modifications to make it even better.





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{ 34 comments… read them below or add one }

lou lange June 30, 2010 at 5:36 pm

That is an awesome tomato trellis system. I will duplicate this process next time im at the planting stage for my tomatoes….Very awesome and great post!

Teresa Arnold July 13, 2010 at 1:22 pm

Have you looked at these?
http://www.tomatohelpers.com/
For years we had used a system similar to your tomato trellis but with twine and aluminum conduit. This was a technique I first saw in the book “Square Foot Gardening”. At any rate, after many years of using the training upward technique, we tried Tomato Helpers. They are terrific and they will let the tomatoes grow tall, the fruit isn’t subject to sitting on the ground, and the tomatoes require less training. I have also found harvesting much easier.

In the interest of transparency, let me say that I’m a public relations consultant and I hope to represent this company at some point.

Kenny Point July 13, 2010 at 7:56 pm

Hi Teresa, thanks for sharing the link. No I had not seen those tomato helpers before but I am so happy with the tomato trellis that I plan to stick with it in the future.

Alex Linde July 15, 2010 at 5:51 pm

Love the system, what do you think about no trellis at all. We usually mulch with black plastic and then let them grow out all over the ground. We have had our best yields with this system (75 to 100 tomatoes per plant) and I am wondering if anyone else has had similar results with indeterminate tomatoes. You can see pictures on my blog at
http://blog.vegenag.com/2009/07/2009-garden-update/

Let me know what you think.

Kenny Point July 15, 2010 at 6:50 pm

Thanks Alex, I like to trellis the tomatoes and keep them off the ground but there is nothing wrong if that works well for you. Do you get much rot or slug damage to your fruits? It can be a little more difficult to find and harvest the tomatoes when you let the vines sprawl over the ground though.

Carmen August 1, 2010 at 6:59 am

Nice system. I have something similar for my raspberry bushes (hate those thorns) but I didn’t think of using it for my tomatoes. Right now two of my three main beds are underneath old clotheslines. The person who put them in used wire. I stake my plants then tie the stakes to the lines. This holds the stakes up no matter how much wind and it also provides the height since they are close to six feet high. I’ll be using your system on the one bed no under the lines since it’s next on my rotation. Thanks. I like the new look to your site, but I miss your photo. It made it more friendly.

Kenny Point August 1, 2010 at 11:01 pm

Thanks Carmen, your staking system for the berries sounds like it would work well also.

The photo is still there but I moved it to the footer area just to change things up a bit. I may add another photo towards the top after I take some new ones in the garden.

Buck Hulse November 10, 2010 at 5:10 pm

Thanks Kenny,
I’m increasing the number of tomato plants for the 2011 season, and you just solved a problem I’ve been worrying about. your trellis system is perfect! All I have to do now is get a better handle on watering. Thanks again,

Buck

Carmen November 11, 2010 at 9:01 am

Thanks Kenny. Just an update on my system. My next door neighbor liked it so much that he just finished preparing a bed for next year under his clothlines (which he never uses).

Kenny Point November 18, 2010 at 10:06 pm

You’re very welcome Buck, thanks for stopping by and let me know how the tomato trellis works for you next season.

Dave T January 26, 2011 at 11:28 pm

I think your trellis system is what I have been looking for. Can you tell me where I can purchase the clips for attaching the vines to the wire? Thanks for your great site!

Kenny Point January 27, 2011 at 12:39 am

Thanks for watching the video Dave. I purchased the clips at Johnny’s Selected Seeds.

Mike Peterson February 17, 2011 at 3:09 pm

Thanks Kenny for a simple approach that I really appreciate. We have plenty of the wire here at our ranch that I use on the corral fence; it will serve well on the trellis’. The red mulch is something I’ve never seen before to use for tomatoes. Interesting. How is it better than any other of the mulches?
Once again, looking forward to trying this all out on my Mortgage lifters and Black Krims.

Kenny Point February 20, 2011 at 10:01 am

Hi Mike, there is some debate over whether or not the red color really makes any difference. Some of the studies seem to indicate that it does make a difference in southern parts of the US but not so much elsewhere. It all has something to do with the type of light waves and frequencies that are reflected off of the material. The past couple of seasons I have just used straw to mulch the tomatoes and that worked well also.

Mike Peterson February 28, 2011 at 1:58 pm

Hi Ken,

The whole issue really is “blight”. Tomatoes that we once allowed to be close to the ground, are no longer surviving. Your method here is something to look forward to here in NW Pennsylvania.

I do have to admit, some of the old folks I know have been very successful with their tomatoes at “eye” level or higher. I regret not taking them seriously.

Straw it is. Proven mulch. Interesting info on the red mulch.

Lorri March 20, 2011 at 11:08 pm

Hi Ken, I happened on this while looking for a way to trellis my tomatoes.

Last year I did something similar, but instead used traditional stakes and then wired those to the wire. It worked all right, but not great. I’m going to try your method this year with the ‘maters in a new spot (it was time to rotate anyway).

Lorri March 20, 2011 at 11:10 pm

Oh yeah, I forgot — I’ve tried the red mulch and it was a disappointment. Didn’t last more than one season, not biodegradable, and the grass and weeds just grew under it! Didn’t see much increase in tomato production, either. Ever since I’ve just mulched with straw — it adds nutrients back into the soil, it’s biodegradable, and any weed that makes it through is easily pulled.

Laura April 9, 2011 at 3:09 pm

I have been looking for a good trellis system for our condo’s community garden. I am going to try your system as it looks the easiest and not too expensive. It also appears pretty “low profile” which should help keep members of the community not participating in the garden happy. I have one question. In order to keep a consistent look throughout the garden, I would like to use the tomato system for all trellised veggies. Do you think this type of trellis would work well for cucumbers, other vining plants as well? Thanks!

Kenny Point April 10, 2011 at 9:45 am

Hi Laura, I definitely think that this trellis system will work for other crops in the garden. Maybe not as well for crops like cucumbers but it probably would work. I am currently using a similar system to trellis my blackberries. If you try it with the cukes let me know how it works and send us some pics.

Anecia Price April 27, 2011 at 10:40 pm

Hi Kenny! We are definitely using this trellis system this year! We are greatly increasing the number of tomatoes we are planting and this will be an effective and cost-savvy way of keeping them trained! I can’t wait to see how it turns out!

Phil May 14, 2011 at 9:00 am

Kenny – Great system! I set it up in under an hour and it seems to be working really well. Thanks for sharing!!

Greg M. January 3, 2012 at 9:40 pm

Thank you very much for the info on the tomato trellis system.I used the same T posts this past growing season with great success.Ah the simplicity of it all.I have always used the flimsy cone cages and wooden stakes with only limited success.I was saving my dollars to purchase the welded concrete wire which can be quite expensive. Was planning to toss the cages but my son’s church was starting a community garden and asked for these supplies so I gladly donated. Thanks again and good luck in the 2012 season.

Greg M. January 3, 2012 at 9:52 pm

Hi Kenny, I also wanted to make note that a friend gave me a few of the farm T posts minus the holes. I added holes with a cobalt drill bit designed for steel.

Marshelle April 18, 2012 at 1:50 pm

Kenny, thanks for the great ideas. Where is the best place to get tall posts like you have used to run the wire across? I believe you mentioned they already have pre-drilled holes and they look like they are metal. Thanks for your help.

Kenny Point April 18, 2012 at 5:14 pm

Hi Marshelle, the posts are metal and you can find them up to about six feet in length at places like Lowe’s and Home Depot. If you want taller post try a farm supply company like Agway or Tractor Supply (TSC).

Jim May 5, 2012 at 12:13 am

we use cattle panel fence instead of the wire just wire the cattle panel to the posts and tie the tomatoes to the cattle panel fence very easy and works very well!

John August 23, 2012 at 2:05 pm

Kenny awesome system I will definitely use this next season Have you tried it with cucumbers?

Aaron Hall February 9, 2013 at 3:09 pm

This blog is a great source of information! We grow tomatoes in a big greenhouse on our small farm. The best method of support we have found is to hang sisal twine from overhead, tying one or more twines to the base of each plant. As the tomato plants grow, just keep the main stem(s) of the plant twisted around the twine and prune off any excessive side shoots. We have used those little plastic tomato clips, but found them to be unnecessary if the stems are wound around the twine frequently enough…plus you don’t have to mess with removing them all at the end of the season! It works better than support steaks because the plant doesn’t slide down the stake when fruit begins setting, thus preventing any risk of the stems breaking. Just make sure you have strong enough twine, as a tomato plant loaded with tomatoes can be very heavy… We’ve had accidents before!

Kenny Point February 10, 2013 at 8:48 am

Aaron, thanks for stopping by and for sharing your tip on trellising tomatoes… I’m always open to trying out a new gardening technique that works for someone else!

Beth June 3, 2013 at 8:31 am

Can this system be used after the plants have started growing and producing a few small tomatoes or is it too late now? I’m definitely bookmarking for next year but would love to start now if it’s not too late!

Also, I was wondering with this method, can you plant them a little closer together since they don’t bush out as much?

Kenny Point June 3, 2013 at 4:49 pm

Hi Beth, you can use the system as long as the plants haven’t gotten too tall or started sprawling all over. You can plant them a little closer with this trellis system, especially if you are pinching the suckers out to keep the vines under control.

Beth June 9, 2013 at 8:01 pm

Thanks so much Kenny! I am pretty sure my plants are too big and out of control for this year but definitely excited to try next year. I am grateful to you for responding so quickly as well! Thanks so much and happy gardening to you!!

Shel March 10, 2014 at 4:37 pm

Thanks for the update! I just saw your video on YouTube explaining how to set up the tomato support system and was curious how it turned out. I think I’ll be trying this one! :)

Kenny Point March 20, 2014 at 5:49 am

Thanks for checking out the video Shel. The trellis system has worked well for me and that is all that I have used for tomatoes since I learned about that technique.

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