Tomatoes grow from two types of plants: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate varieties have a shorter lifespan and typically fruit once during the season. Indeterminate vines can grow much longer and produce fruit continually throughout the growing season. Tomato plants benefit from support systems because it keeps the fruit and foliage from contacting the soil, resulting in less disease and better production.
Wood or metal stakes are an inexpensive way to support tomatoes throughout the growing season. Depending on the type of tomato plant you grow (determinate or indeterminate), use 3- to 6-foot-long wooden or metal stakes. Drive stakes 8 to 12 inches into the soil, placed at least 4 inches from the plant base, on the side opposite the first bloom cluster. Use soft cord, strips of fabric or old pantyhose to secure the plant to the stake. Always tie plants above bloom clusters to help support the weight of the fruit as it develops.
An alternative to staking and tying each individual plant is to incorporate a Florida weave staking system, which is more efficient when growing a large number of tomato plants. Drive wooden stakes, at least 1 inch square, into the soil 4 inches from the base of each plant down the row. Use tight cording, such as polypropylene cord, tying it to the first stake at least 6 inches above the soil line, then run to the next stake, wrapped around it tightly, keeping the cord line taut. Repeat this process to the last stake, wrap cord around and follow same procedure along the other side, back to the first stake. As plants continue to grow, repeat the cording process three to five times to support the branches of the growing tomato plants.
Indeterminate tomato varieties supported with a trellis system cause tomato plants to produce fewer, but larger, fruit that ripen at an earlier date. Drive and anchor two 3- to 6-inch-diameter support posts into each end of the row, with at least 5 feet of post above the soil line. Secure heavy gauge wire to the top of one post, stringing it tightly across and then secure it on top of the other post. Tie twine to the wire above each plant then to the base of each tomato plant. Prune each plant down to one or two main stems, removing additional suckers as the plant grows. As the stems grow, wrap twine around each for support. Because of pruning, this method subjects fruit to greater sun exposure.
Cages are the simplest way of providing support for tomato plants. Place the cage over each tomato plant, pushing the prongs, or legs, down into the soil. As the plant grows, lay branches gently over the horizontal wires. After the plant dies off at the end of the gardening season, cages are readily removed and ready for the next growing season. Cages come in a variety of shapes including round, spiral and square.