Support your plants

Published 6:54 am Saturday, July 28, 2018

Physically supporting certain vegetable plants in the garden can help produce the best harvest. Plants that are supported have three advantages. They can better intercept light to optimize fruit production. They may be healthier due to increased air movement around the leaves and less splash of soil particles that can spread disease. And, they may take up less space and reduce management time in the home garden

Metal or wooden stakes can be used to support single plants. This method is common for tomatoes, peppers, eggplants or other upright fruiting crops. Stakes can improve access to the fruit, but they also require additional time to tie each plant to the stake multiple times during the season. Stakes can also be used to form support tents or teepees often used for pole beans.

Cages are structures that are generally freestanding metal units to support tomatoes, peppers, or a range of vining bean and pea plants. While they do allow easy access to the fruit, the cage must be carefully sized to support the weight of the mature plant. Metal cattle panels can also support vine crops when paired with steel t-posts.

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A trellis system can be constructed of wood, plastic or twine. The general principle is to provide a flat, vertical structure or a string to support plants as they grow and bear fruit. It is most common to see trellises used for plants that have tendrils or the means to attach themselves to the trellis. Cucumbers, beans, peas, winter squash and melons are all crops that can be trellised easily. For the larger fruited vining crops, support must be added for the fruit. Clips or string can be used to attach plant stems to the string or trellis if needed for tomatoes (primarily indeterminate), peppers and other crops without tendrils.

One of the most common methods of growing tomatoes commercially can also be adapted for the home garden. The system is essentially a combination of stakes and twines that creates a twine basket for a whole row of tomato plants by weaving twine among the plants and around the stakes. There are many on-line videos that illustrate this training system, called the ‘Florida weave,’ which can be time efficient and effective for gardens with few or many tomato plants.

If you have any questions about this article, give me a call at 423-626-3742. Stay tuned for the next installment of Garden News where we discuss pruning plants in the vegetable garden.