Tomato plants grow like weeds and they can get huge! You need to think about how you are going to support them before you even start planting. The type of tomato you are growing can help you decide.
There are two types of tomatoes – bush tomatoes (called “determinate”) and vining, or “indeterminate” tomatoes. Bush tomatoes only grow so tall, then produce all of their flowers and fruit at the same time. Vining tomatoes keep growing upward and make new flowers and fruit for as long as they can.
Both types need support for two reasons. First, once your tomato plants start fruiting, the stems can break under the weight of the tomatoes. Second, keeping the plants off the ground promotes good air circulation and helps prevent contact with the soil. Some tomato diseases are soil born and can be spread by water splashing up onto the leaves of your plant, so it is even helpful to prune away the bottom leaves a bit to create some distance.
Bush tomatoes are generally caged. The bigger the cage, the more room the plant has to spread out and the better the airflow between the stems. We used this kind at Old Trail Farm. They are a little pricey, but they will last for many years so they are a good investment if you can afford it.
Vining tomatoes are usually staked (tied to some sort of post in the ground) or trellised (clipped to rope or twine that is supported by a structure, such as a high tunnel frame). The bigger your tomato variety, the burlier your post will need to be. We used 8’ t-posts for our Brandywines because each fruit can weigh a pound!
Once you’ve chosen your support, it’s time to plant! Here’s a neat little trick: instead of digging a hole that goes straight down to plop your starts into, dig an angled trench. Pull off the bottom leaves on your plant and lay it in the trench so the new bottom leaves are just above soil level. Then, fill the trench, burying most of the stem, and firm in your plant. It will grow new roots from the stem, which will make your tomato plant stronger and sturdier!