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Give your tomatoes some support

Fran O’Leary Tomato plant and cage
HOMEMADE CAGES: After we plant each tomato, we put a large homemade cage over the plant and secure it with two clips, one on each side, to anchor the cage into the soil.
Through the Garden Gate: Cages or staking tomatoes helps boost yields.

Tomatoes are by far my favorite garden plant, and I’m not alone. According to the USDA, Americans eat 22 to 24 pounds of tomatoes per person, per year. About half of that comes in the form of ketchup and tomato sauce. A whopping 93% of American gardeners grow tomatoes. I wonder what the 7% who don’t grow tomatoes plant in their gardens?

We planted nine tomato plants in our garden on May 15, along with bell peppers, yellow onions and kohlrabi. I also planted lettuce in a large pot on the deck. We planted a variety of tomatoes, including two red cherry plants, one yellow cherry, a Better Boy, a Big Boy, an Early Girl, a Celebrity, a Jet Star and a Brandywine tomato, which is an heirloom variety that grows large, flavorful fruit with pink skin.

I had a hard time finding a large variety of tomato plants this year. I visited three area garden centers to buy tomato plants. I was told they did not receive all the tomato or other garden plants they ordered from their wholesale suppliers due to labor shortages at the supplier’s. So, I made do with what I found, and I paid a little more than I usually pay, but I’m grateful I was able to get what I got. The tomatoes we planted are all healthy, young plants that will yield fruit of various sizes, colors and maturities. However, I was disappointed I couldn’t find any large yellow tomato plants this year.

Growing tomatoes vertically

After we planted each tomato, we put one of our large homemade tomato cages over the plant and secured each cage with two clips, one on each side, to anchor the cage into the soil. It’s not necessary to put a cage on a newly planted tomato plant, but we always do it when we plant the tomatoes so we leave enough space and don’t forget to do it later. A month from now, the tomatoes will likely be too big to fit a tomato cage over them.

We choose to use these large, homemade cages because they are cheaper than the ones you can buy at a garden center, and they are sturdier. Some years our tomato plants get quite tall and are filled with tomatoes, and these cages, made of woven wire fencing, can handle the weight. We’ve used them for 12 years and they still look new.

Tomato cages keep the fruit up off the groun,d which minimizes disease, but growing tomato plants vertically also saves space in the garden. A tomato plant growing vertically is easier to care for. You don’t have to worry about stepping on its vines to gain access to the plant, and you won’t have to bend over so far to prune it or to inspect it for diseases and pests. It also boosts tomato yields.

Another option to support tomato plants is to stake them and use fasteners to attach the vines. Choose a fastener that will not cut into the vine. Bare wire, for example, is a poor choice for a fastener. Fabric or old pantyhose are popular materials for fasteners because they are soft.

Tie the vine loosely to the support to avoid damage. Fasten the vine to the support about every 6 or 8 inches as it grows. Make your tie an inch or so above a flowering stem so the fastener does not cut into the stem after it becomes weighed down with fruit.

Come back next Friday when I discuss the advantages of buying annual flower baskets at Amish greenhouses and produce auctions.

Comments? Email fran.oleary@farmprogress.com.

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