The first thing to know about tomatoes, is whether they are Bush (Determinate) or Vine (Indeterminate), and how to remember which is which. 1st, is word length. Bush is shorter in stature (as compared to a vine), and thus aligns with the shorter word. Determinate. Vine, longer plant, longer word. Indeterminate. The 2nd thing to know is each plants’ distinct preference and requirements for support.
Determinate (Bush) – As these are a ‘Bush’ plant, a bush support system is needed. Cages are the most popular method of support, whether purchasing a wire tomato cage or building your own. Other methods of support include: a stake driven deep enough and close enough to the plant so as not to damage the roots. (Driving the stake before planting the seedling into the garden is the only sure way to stake without damaging the roots), fencing, pig wire, chicken wire and lattice are other simple ways to encase or wrap around the plant in a cage like fashion. Determinate plants are often Hybrids, bred for disease, pests or low water.
Indeterminate (Vines) – These are runners, and can be trained to grow vertically or simply left to grow along the ground. When growing vertically, many folks prefer to use a trellis of some sort. Lattice is a popular method, as is a more formal grape vine type configuration, using (2) or (3) wires pulled tightly between posts. Another method is to simply use string. By dropping a piece of twine or paracord, (or kite string, fishing line, cotton string etc) from above the plant, you can give the lead vine a direction to grow, as well as something on which to grow. Indeterminate Tomatoes are more likely to be Heirlooms.
Whichever type you have, pruning is mandatory to keep the ‘suckers’ at bay. Suckers sprout in the crotch of a “V”, and left to grow, will put off additional fruit blossoms and additional suckers. This might ‘sound’ like a good idea, but it really is not. More blossom and more fruit means more work and more nutrients the plant needs to service those blossoms and subsequent fruit. This invariable leads to stunted fruit with various problems and bug attacks. Pests only attack unhealthy plants, so keeping your plants healthy should be the #1 choice for repelling bug and pest attacks.
Also, keep in mind that once a sucker is removed from the crotch, that does not mean that another one cannot grow back in it’s place. Constant inspection of your plants is suggested to catch a sucker before it gets too large. (Even if they do, I still snap ’em). But these ‘suckers’ sure do grow fast, so heads up.
Finally, any branches that grow low enough to touch the soil should be ‘snapped’ off. This helps protect the plant from soil borne diseases. Some gardeners also suggest removing any branches below the 1st fruit set.
For the most part, Mother Nature takes care of the rest. The Tomato plant will thicken up it’s stalks and grow strong fruit stems to hold all that juicy and soon to be delicious fruit. They are notorious for being heavy feeders (Compost is by far the best) and big drinkers (though they don’t like ‘wet’ feet), so provide plenty of rich nutrients and water for your plants to grow as tall and strong as possible.
Now go tend to dem ‘maters!!