The Procrastinators Guide to Adding a Tomato Trellis

Growing tomato plants is fun and easy. Salsa anyone? So when you’ve bought a tomato plant but then life happened, is it too late to trellis tomatoes? Nope! I bring to you the procrastinators guide to adding a tomato trellis, even when your plants are growing.

indeterminate varieties of tomatoes

Is it too late to cage my tomato plants?

Luckily the short answer is NO, it is not too late. Good thing for me, because like you, I have had a lot going on this year. Tomato plants are one of the first things I add to my garden, even if I don’t have a full garden space yet. That is what happened this year, as we were having our landscaping redone, and my raised beds were not in yet. But growing tomatoes is always a priority, so I dove in anyway.

So the last few years I have been growing tomato plants in pots instead of a raised bed. This is a great option for a small space. I usually visit the local garden centers, and pick young plants that are already started. Then I just plop the plastic cage it came with in the pot temporarily when transplanting, to keep it stable while growing.

trellis on determinate tomatoes

This year, I just didn’t have the time to build my tomato trellis early. We were traveling and had lots of projects going on. So while I was planning things for my backyard, my tomato plants got a bit ignored. In spite of me, they grew anyway, and this is exactly why I love growing tomatoes.

Individual tomato cages come in different sizes, and if you are adding them later in the season, it will be easier with an A frame tomato trellis that is larger at the bottom or T posts. They really need extra support as they grow taller. As the plant produces fruit, the side branches will be bearing more weight.

trellis on a tomato plant

How do you stake tomatoes that are already grown?

When tomatoes are grown, you stake them carefully! Helpful, right? But seriously, there are a few ways to get them staked and supported, but you need to be careful. The last thing you want to do is break a main stem, and those little suckers can be delicate. The plant will always need additional support with the tomatoes grown, as they tend to grow fairly quickly.

bamboo trellis support

The easiest ways you can stake tomato plants that are already grown are with a bamboo trellis system, wooden stakes, an actual vertical trellis, or an obelisk structure. All of these options are DIY and pretty easy. And of course, if you aren’t the handy type or too worried about your garden aesthetic, you can simply buy these. A bamboo trellis system or wood stakes would be a quick DIY tomato trellis and can be very easy for the person with no tools.

basic tools needed for bamboo trellis
basic tools needed for bamboo trellis

Tomato varieties determine trellis size in your garden

As I have said, you can even have a garden in a small space. The first year I purchased plants, I thought I was buying my favorite tomato varieties. With garden centers crowded, and identifying markers falling away, I thought I was buying determinate varieties. Later when the tomato plant began to produce fruit, I realized I had purchased indeterminate tomato plants, mainly cherry tomatoes.

cherry tomato bounty

Although this variety is great in a small space, I had a raised bed at the time and had lots of room for tomato plants grow. This plant produced the most delicious fruit, and although I had previously not cared for that variety, it quickly became a favorite when I realized how delicious they were homegrown! These plants produce maximum yields, and I had yummy tomato salads every night. They don’t take up much space and it was easy to keep the plants healthy.

So when growing tomatoes, try different varieties. Some determinate plants and other indeterminate tomato plants. With a tomato trellis, they will take up little space and are worth having in a raised bed.

juicy vine ripened tomatoes

What happens if you don’t cage tomatoes?

Let’s answer that scary question about what could happen if you don’t cage or trellis tomatoes. It’s nothing earth shattering to your general world, but to your garden bed, you may have to bid your tomatoes goodbye. They could get eaten up by slugs and other garden pests, and don’t get me started on the rabbits or squirrels! UGH!!!

I have too many in my yard, and they are a constant battle. But those little freeloaders will come by and feast on your fruit, like you personally planted it for their individual buffet. It’s always a battle to keep your plants healthy and safe from pests.

trellis for tomato plants
You can clearly see the benefit of having tomatoes on a trellis

When you can get your tomatoes growing vertical, securing with tomato clips or twine, caging them allows air to circulate through the plants. This is great for the foliage, as it helps prevent fungal diseases as the sprawling vines have ample room. Plus, tomatoes just look really cute growing up. What can I say? I just love a homemade salsa, so tomatoes are my main garden go to!

What to do when your tomato plant outgrows its cage?

Outgrowing their cage isn’t a huge problem, unless the cage isn’t really supporting them. I have only really had that happen when I have used the plastic cage it comes with for too long. The cage you place around your tomato plants needs to be sturdy. If it is, and your plants are getting too unruly and outgrowing the cage, it’s time to prune. The plant’s energy will give you a clue too, they do like to be pruned. It also allows a greater yield to come forth.

pruning tomato plants

When pruning, I always wash my garden shears first, because you never know what I was last doing with them. If they are handy when I’m weeding, then I have been known to use them to pry stuff up out of the garden. So to eliminate any weed juice (is that a thing? probably not, but…) or other germs, I just take them in and give them a quick cleaning with hot water and Dawn dish soap.

Pruning always freaks me out a bit, like I’m cutting away good stuff. But actually if you prune, it encourages your plants to produce more fruit instead of just foliage, so it’s good for them. Consider yourself a mama bear protecting her young, but in this case, they’re plants and fruit. Pruning will help your plants produce maximum yields and grow taller.

tomato plant with trellis

How tall does a tomato trellis need to be?

There are a few factors here at play. One being, the type of tomato varieties you are trying to grow and how tall it might get. And two, if you are doing a container garden like me, how tall could the trellis be for your container. Wherever you have them planted, tomatoes will always need that added support.

The containers that I recently built obelisks for needed to be a specific size to work and be aesthetically pleasing. These look so cute in a garden, and when the plants grow tall they can really stretch out. Of course, you can use them in a raised bed, but mine were being built for container use.

tomato plant container

To make a custom size, I simply measured the width of the container to know how wide I could build it at the base. Then I measured how tall it could be based upon my plant and how I wanted it to look.

This planting area is the view outside my kitchen nook area, near my raised beds that have the herb garden. For size, I was looking for proper balance for the container, along with not being taller than the brick wall behind them that runs between me and my neighbor.

height for trellis diy

What is the best material for a tomato trellis?

Best material for a tomato trellis? Options include bamboo, plastic or PVC pipe, metal, and wood. Out of those, plastic is out first for me, as I want a bit of style to my garden and PVC pipe isn’t a great look. Bamboo poles need to be pretty thick, as the smaller ones they sell to stake plants can get a bit floppy for overgrown plants with heavy fruit. Your tomatoes really need extra support while growing.

bamboo trellis for tomatoes

This year, I decided to add tomato plants and herbs up north at the cottage. I built a teepee style trellis system within the container out of the thinner bamboo poles and it has held them in nicely. But as the plants have matured, I can tell it is getting a bit wobbly but still stable.

Metal or wood offer great trellis support, and I especially like wood because then I can do a DIY tomato trellis. Metal choices can be metal T posts, a frame structures, and the classic tomato cage. Wood is great to support tomatoes and I love how it looks in the garden bed. Who knew trellising tomatoes could be cute?

How do you make a wood trellis for tomatoes to your specifications?

There are lots of great tutorials online that show how to build a huge obelisk for your garden bed. However, my needs were much smaller than I was seeing and very specific. So I decided to build my own. I was able to purchase some vintage tobacco sticks from a friend, as I wanted a very weathered look. This is what I did:

weathered tobacco sticks for trellis

Measured my pots

Obviously the obelisk or trellis would need to sit inside the pot, so first measure the width. Mine was about 18″ so I decided to make the bottom width of the structure a few inches less than that.

Figured out the height

I had purchased two different tomato plant varieties for my pots, but wanted to build the trellis structures the same height. I also did not want them to visually extend taller than the brick wall between my neighbor and I. So I basically eyeballed what would look the best and went with that.

a frame trellis

Cut all my wood at once

Once I knew the height, I cut my 8 sticks to the same length (remember I was making two tomato supports). Since I was making it to how I visually wanted it to look, there was lots of freedom to figure it out as I went.

trellis diy

Laid it out

Next I laid two sticks out in the ultimate shape I wanted. I was going to need 3 crossbars on each, so I figured out where they should start. I measured and made marks evenly between them and then cut out all the crossbars I would need for both tomato supports.

Nailed it together using my pneumatic nailer/compressor

Once everything was cut, I nailed the cross pieces in place. Once I finished one side , I patterned the other 3 pieces from the first by laying it on top and repeating the process. Two tomato trellises were held back to back, touching at the top, as I nailed the other crossbars to make the final shape of the tomato supports.

diy trellis project

Topped it off

To cover the unfinished area at the top, I mitered some additional wood pieces at the top into a square and topped with a wood finial I had leftover from another project.

trellis top

What is the best wood for tomato trellis?

Cedar is the best wood for projects outdoors. If you can’t get that, you can use pine. It weathers nicely and is usually pretty cost efficient. I always stay away from wood that has been treated when I am building anything that would be in direct contact with anything you would eat.

What is the best way to trellis tomatoes?

Trellising tomatoes depends on the determinate varieties or indeterminate plants you are growing. Starting from an early planting stage, there are many options for colorful cages. The cone like tomato cage style really needs to be added upfront, as removing suckers laters would be near impossible as they wrap around the trellis.

At the cottage I added an A frame freestanding structure, and attached the sprawling vines with garden twine. You can also use nylon cord or tomato clips. Building a DIY tomato trellis with bamboo poles was super easy and will be easy storage in the winter.

a frame trellis

Each time I go to the cottage, which is mostly every week, I have to adjust the stems. As you grow tomatoes, stems need to be trained where to grow on the trellis. I try to be super careful as I move them so I don’t end up with any broken stems. Most tomato plants produce fruit heartily, and I love the way they look within a freestanding structure.

However, my tomato plants at home did not get staked right away. I had the protection of the original plastic trellis that came with the plant, which is not great support for too long. But when I was finally ready to build my a frame, I cut this one away and replaced it with my DIY tomato trellis.

plastic tomato cage

Adding an A frame trellis as plants grow tall

Very carefully, holding the main stem together and hugging as much of the plant together, I was able to place the obelisk at a slight angle over the top of the plant. Once all stems were safely inside the A frame, I pulled the side branches through the trellis support. You can also use garden twine to carefully tie the vines together to hold the heavy fruit in place while you do this.

two tomato diy trellises

After the structure or trellis is in place, you can begin carefully bringing the stems of the plant through the areas according to the height of the base of the stem. Be careful while supporting those arms that have fruit. With the plant already growing, you will see that an A frame is the easiest tomato trellis to add late.

If you are using a vertical triangle trellis, you can loosely tie some of the larger stems onto the trellis with twine. This will train them to grow that direction, along with supporting the weight while they do. How heavy are the tomatoes depends on their variety and size. This kind of trellis needs to be against a wall, and is not suited for open raised beds.

triangle trellis

Planning for next year

If you are a shy gardener, I hope you will consider growing your own tomato plants next season. Indeterminate varieties are super easy to grow and provide the most tomatoes by count, since they are smaller. But determinate tomatoes are great for salsas, and sandwiches, and taste so much better than those in the market.

With the help of a tomato trellis, or tomato cage, you can easily grown the yummiest of fruit! I am really going to expand my tomato plants next year, as the offerings are vast and now that I have a greenhouse, I can start them early.

pair of wood trellis

Follow me on Pinterest to see all the cute ideas I’ve been using for garden inspiration. If you love gardens, then check out this post of when I visited the gardens in Waco at the Magnolia Silos.

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