Growing Tomatoes Vertically
Have you ever heard of growing tomatoes vertically? Growing vertically means that instead of planting things regularly in rows and allowing them to grow over cages or stakes, you grow them up a structure like a trellis or twine or anything that you can tie them up to so they take up less space in your garden area, reduces disease because they get more air, and are easier to find pests on!
There is another benefit of growing tomatoes vertically. It allows you to prune your tomatoes easily. We did this last year and were very pleased with our increased production in tomatoes.
Did you ever notice when you buy or look at a tomato plant at a store that they are labeled under the tomato name (like Big Beef Or Early Girl) with some odd words?
Sometimes you will see the words “determinate” or “indeterminate” under the name. These are the two types of tomatoes.
Types of Tomatoes
#1 – Determinate tomatoes are sometimes called “bush tomatoes”. They grow to a fixed mature size and usually all the tomatoes appear and ripen around the same time in the span of about two weeks. At that point, the plant is basically done producing for the season. Determinate tomatoes are great tomatoes for making sauces and canning because you get so many at once.
#2 – Indeterminate tomatoes can be thought of as a vine. The plants flower first lower down on the plant and those will be the first tomatoes. Then they will flower a little higher up and another set will appear. This will continue to repeat itself as the plant continues to grow at the top like a vine. It will continue to do so until the first freeze and then it too will be done producing. You should be very careful to never trim the top of a Indeterminate tomato or break it as the plant will be done and you won’t get full production from it.
So- back to growing tomatoes vertically!
Most people grow indeterminate tomatoes vertically as they keep producing throughout the season and can grow up to ten feet tall.
Another bonus of growing tomatoes vertically? You can plant a tomato plant in one square foot.
Yes I really just said “one square foot”.
How we grow our tomatoes vertically
To begin, we keep the tomato limited to only one main stem or the original stem that goes into the ground. Any branch that attaches directly to the one main stem gets to stay. But anything that grows off of those branches or in the “V” between branches (called a sucker”), gets pruned off! Also after the first set of flowers turns into tomatoes we cut off all leaves below that spot. I’ll explain more in detail later on in the post!
This process allows the energy of the plant to go to the production of the tomatoes instead of to a zillion leaves.
It makes a lot of sense when you think about it.
Structuring Vertical Gardening
A few years back, Mr. Wonderful added the wooden structure that has served as holding our shade fabric over the garden (the red structure seen in the photo above). It is anchored to the corners of our beds. In Oklahoma, it gets so hot in the summer, we use 50/50 shade fabric which allows 50% of the sun through it’s coarse weave to our garden, preventing sun-scorch to our precious plants. You can also see our shade fabric supports (the red boards) above the garden.
Mr. Wonderful drilled holes through the board frames at the top above two of the beds. He then slid some pipe we had laying around through them to for the top frame for our vertical gardening. You could also use boards with large eye hooks on the bottom of them (the eye hooks you see in this picture are to attach our shade fabric to, not our tomatoes -we use the silver poles).
Down at the bottom of the bed on the inside frame of the wood, he added more eye hooks directly under the poles. Then he strung straight lines of baling twine (we purchased at the Tractor Supply) to make parallel lines of twine under the poles from one eye hook to the other side to another eye hook.
The point is to tie a separate line now vertically (or running up and down) around the poles and then down to the twine line to form a line up for the tomatoes to grow up and be tied to.
This is the kind we bought. It came in a two-pack (About $30) and will probably will be enough that we’ll never have to buy it again in our lifetime!
Tomatoes can grow vertically in about one square foot of space because basically, you’re going to keep them trimmed up like vines.
So we place the twine about every square foot and planted a tomato plant behind it. Then we tied the tomato to the twine down near the base and again up a foot or so.
Usually we use this flexible type garden tape (but being the unthinking gardener, I hadn’t purchased any yet) but I highly recommend it. It allows the plant to grow and the tape will expand as it does so. I get it at my local nursery.
Now it’s just a matter of letting your tomatoes grow and keeping them tied to the string and …
One very important other thing…..
Trim the suckers.
Explaining Tomato “Suckers”
The thought process of growing tomatoes vertically is to only have one or at the most, two main stems growing from the plant and to trim off the suckers. This provides most of the energy to growing fruit. It also allows more air into the plant allowing less chance of disease or rot and making it easier to spot pests! It also allows the tomatoes to ripen quicker because they get more energy. This worked very well for us last year!.
This diagram of a tomato plant shows you the main stem. Basically any branch that comes off that stem is OK to leave on the plant with one exception. Once the plant flowers for the first time you can trim off all leaves connected to the stem UNDER the cluster of flowers. The plant flowers as it grow up so these leaves will never be needed. You don’t need them zapping your plant energy. Cut them off (using sharp clean snippers).
Suckers grow in the “axil” of the V where a branch meets the main stem of the tomato plant (see above). If these are tiny, you can usually pinch them off with your fingernails quite easily. You want to get all these babies OFF or they will grow into more and more branches and form new stems and the result will be a big tangled bush of a mess. Some folks in heated areas like ours prefer to just take off the leaflets at the end of each sucker, leaving a bit of it to shade the tomatoes from sunscald, leaving only two leaflets in place.
If you do this correctly your tomato vines will look just like that…a vine growing up to 6-10 feet tall, tied up every foot or so with clusters of tomatoes hanging and growing into bright delicious jewels of summer!
I will keep you updated on what they look like as they progress! Happy planting!