Tomato gardens are beloved by all: not just by the satisfied gardener, but by the hungry consumer, and even just anyone strolling through the garden and taking in the musky, summery aroma of homegrown tomato plants. The truth is, however, that not everyone is lucky enough to have enough space for a full-on in-ground home garden for their tomato planting dreams. That’s where vertical tomato gardens come in!
Read on to learn all about vertical tomato gardens, why you should have one, and how to grow one!
What is a Vertical Tomato Garden?
A vertical tomato garden is pretty much what it sounds like: training tomato plants to grow vertically thanks to a physical support system like a trellis, cage, stakes, and more.
Why Grow a Vertical Tomato Garden?
Let’s look at the many reasons why you would want to grow a vertical tomato garden:
- Vertical tomato gardens are a great option for those who want a tomato garden but don’t have enough space to plant them in-ground.
- Even for those that do have a backyard, vertical tomato gardens are just a more efficient use of space! Mathematically speaking, your plants will produce more fruit per horizontal square foot!
- Without support, many tomato plants would grow into a moist pile of vines on the ground, attracting pests and diseases. Vertical gardens keep tomatoes dry, clean, and lifted off the soil.
- Vertical tomato gardens make it easier for the tomato plant to receive the proper amount of air circulation. This is especially important for drying off any excess watering or moisture before the sun sets, when it might encourage the growth of mold.
- Vertical tomato gardens also facilitate the even distribution of sunlight through the foliage and on the tomato fruits.
- Vertical tomato gardens make potential pests easier to see (and exterminate) because of how spread out the vines and foliage are.
- Vertical tomato gardens make it easier to pluck tomatoes off the plants when harvest season comes around.
- Vertical gardens can be maintained indoors or outdoors, in pots or in-ground!
- Last but not least, I think that vertical tomato gardens are just prettier to look at.
How to Grow a Vertical Tomato Garden
Now that I’ve hopefully convinced you to grow a vertical tomato garden, let’s get to work!
Location is probably the reason why you thought of starting a vertical tomato garden in the first place: because you just don’t have enough space! Remember, however, that the location you choose for your vertical garden also has to adhere to some additional guidelines.
The location you choose must be warm, and be exposed to at least eight hours of full sunlight. Tomatoes are warmth-loving plants! If you choose to start your vertical garden indoors, consider buying grow lamps to help maintain the temperature.
If you grow your plants outside, make sure it’s a location that’s easy for you to water, because tomatoes are thirsty plants! The soil, however, should also have good drainage to avoid becoming soggy and allowing the roots to rot. Additionally, consider planting in-ground tomato plants near a fence or wall, against which you can build whatever support system you choose.
Choosing Tomato Plants
Next is choosing the best tomato plants for your vertical garden! The most important consideration in regards to this choice is choosing between determinate and indeterminate plants. If you don’t know what that means, read up on determinate versus indeterminate tomato plants to discover everything you need to know between the two categories.
In summary, determinate tomatoes have a self-pruning gene that causes them to stop growing after a determined amount. They are often called bush tomatoes because they are shorter, stockier, and thicker tomato plants. Instead, Indeterminate tomato plants grow an indeterminate amount (even over 15 feet long!) and require a physical support system to keep them off the ground.
Determinate tomatoes produce most of their fruit all at once, whereas indeterminate tomatoes produce less tomatoes over a longer period of time.
Most tomatoes come in both determinate and indeterminate varieties, but not all of them. Experts agree that indeterminate tomatoes are the better option for your vertical tomato garden, because they will actually grow up your trellises and cages!
I thought I’d briefly talk about containers for those of you who plan on growing a potted vertical tomato garden. If this isn’t you, feel free to skip this section!
In general, the larger the pot for any kind of tomato plant, the better. Clearly, indeterminate tomatoes will need a much bigger container than determinate tomatoes. I like to suggest reusing other materials as containers: think of buckets, cans, and anything else that can hold the right amount of soil!
Whatever container you choose should also have holes at the bottom for good drainage. If the pot will be sitting outside, avoid dark colors that might cause the tomato roots to overheat. Consider purchasing a pot with a water reservoir.
Remember those big containers are naturally heavier because they hold more soil—so make sure that the location you choose is at least semi-permanent before filling the pot up with soil!
Planting and Support
Now, the most important part: actually planting the tomatoes!
You should calculate the planting layout to have at least ten feet between your tomato plants if you’re growing more than one. Then, wait out the last winter frost before getting started.
Once it is really and truly springtime, install whatever support system is best for the location you have chosen. You want to do this before actually putting the plant in the soil to avoid damaging the tomato plant later on.
If you’re planting your tomatoes in-ground, dig a hole deep enough so that the transplant’s rootball is beneath the ground level. If you don’t want to plant young transplants and would rather grow tomato plants from seed, follow these directions and then get back to us when your seeds have turned into young plants!
Then, start guiding your tomato plant to the support structure by tying it loosely with a soft string or a thin strip of cloth, being careful not to damage the plant in the process. Once the plant grows tall enough, you’ll be able to gently wind the main vine itself into the cage, trellis, or whatever support system you use.
Fill in the gap between the rootball and the soil. If you’re planting your vertical tomato garden in-ground, use garden soil. If you’re planting your vertical tomato garden in a pot, use potting soil. In both cases, use quality, nutrient-rich soils. Tomatoes are big feeders! Consider using fertilizer and compost as appropriate to help their growth.
You can also layer the soil around the tomato plants (or in the pot) with mulch to help protect the roots from overheating and to aid moisture retention. Just remember to leave some soil around the main trunk of the tomato plant mulch-free.
Watering is actually a tricky gardening task. Tomatoes need lots of water to grow their juicy fruit, and vertical tomato gardens are no different. Overwatering, however, is just as bad, and plant roots can quite literally drown. Plus, unnecessary water splashing across the foliage (as opposed to directing the watering into the soil at the base of the plant) encourages the growth of mold, and could also carry waterborne diseases from plant to plant.
Figure out the best watering schedule for you, and stick to it! Irregular watering causes tomatoes to split (you could consider choosing a hybrid variety that is specifically split-resistant). Water whenever the top layer of the soil feels dry, and keep into account rainy days if your vertical garden lives outside. In general, tomatoes require an inch of water a week. Check out our complete guide to watering for more information.
Plants, including tomato plants, are a bit like having pets. They don’t stop being hungry and thirsty if you leave on vacation! Plan ahead to get someone to water your vertical tomato garden, or invest in a self-watering device (or make a makeshift one with a plastic water bottle by poking a hole in its cap and sticking it into the soil upside down).
Pests and Diseases
You’re almost at the end of this guide for growing a vertical tomato garden, but don’t forget to keep an eye out for pests and diseases! Unfortunately, tomatoes (especially heirloom tomatoes) are susceptible to all kinds of pests and diseases. Work preventatively by ensuring proper watering, amply air circulation, timely pruning, and perhaps even using netting to keep larger animals away. If problems appear anyway, treat them appropriately, and learn about the 7 most common tomato diseases.
Pruning is also an important step in growing your vertical tomato garden. It supports healthy growing habits and ample fruit production rather than an excess of foliage. Get rid of suckers (the beginning of new vines that pop up at 45-degree angles between stems and branches). For more details about pruning, check out how to prune tomato plants for the best tomatoes.
Once your tomatoes have a firm consistency and have filled out their expected color (remember that not all tomatoes are red!), it’s time to harvest them, and put them to good use, whether that be sliced in a sandwich or salad, cooked down into a sauce, prepped for canning, and more
Go Start Your Own Vertical Tomato Garden!
I hope this post has inspired you to start your own vertical tomato garden! Not only is it a great option for gardeners with little space, but it actually creates a healthier environment for plants! Remember that indeterminate tomato plants are best suited for vertical tomato gardens. Next, read up on everything else you should know about tomatoes!