Most of my time lately has been spent pruning tomato suckers, staking and supporting growing plants and monitoring the gardens for pests and disease. We’ve heard that late blight has made its way to Vermont (so sad) so I’ve been on the look out for any sign. Is it in your area yet? Make sure you’re ready to take action. I haven’t seen a lot of bugs so far (except for Japanese beetles on our raspberry bushes), but I do flip over every plant leaf to check for the telltale clustered dots: insect eggs!
Over the years, I have a grown a lot of tomatoes in many different ways. So far, I wouldn’t consider myself totally committed to one particular style. I like to experiment. In my home garden, I usually have a few different methods going each season, including metal tomato supports, such as Tomato Cages, Tomato Towers and Tomato Ladders.
Beyond support choices, however, there are other decisions to be made. For example, do you want your tomato to grow inside the support, outside, or both? Are you a heavy pruner, do you just remove extra suckers, or do you let the whole plant be its wild and crazy self — au naturel? I say “yes” to them all, as long as I have a few favorite tools on hand to help guide my decisions.
Here are some of my favorite ways to help tomato plants find their way throughout the season:
Foam Ties. Creating a figure eight, you can easily tie a branch to the inside or outside of your support. Foam Ties help keep the plant where you want it, or encourage it to head in your preferred direction. The soft padding prevents “bleeding” and more significant injury to the stem, great ways to invite disease.
Remember to readjust your ties as the plant grows; they can be loosened if the branch becomes really thick.
Bamboo Poles. This method works best with cages that have horizontal cross bars. Just thread the bamboo poles through the tomato support so that growing branches can lean on them. As the plants develop fruit they become heavier and the bamboo can prevent them from falling over or breaking.
Colorful Garden Clips. These sturdy clips are designed to accommodate string while keeping it away from the tomato stem. This separation prevents rubbing and chafing, which can bleed out sap and expose the plant to disease. These are great problem solvers; as long as you can anchor a string above the plant, you can hold the branches in any position, almost like a marionette. This system works wonderfully inside a plastic hoop house where you can train the tomatoes up one or two strings attached to the metal framework.
What about you — how do you attach your tomatoes to their supports?