Support plants. Stake or cage indeterminate plants (which develop long stems) at the time of transplanting. This keeps vines and tomatoes off the ground so the fruits will be larger, cleaner and less apt to rot. Supported plants are also easier to care for and tomatoes are easier to harvest. Many ingenious systems for supporting plants have been devised. To view a sampling from simple to elaborate, read the University of Missouri guide, Pruning and Training Tomatoes. The most common method is to support each plant with a single sturdy stake, 6 to 8 ft. tall and at least 1 in. thick. Drive the stake into the ground, about 4 in. from the plant. As the plant grows, attach its stems to the stake using commercial tomato ties, strips of soft fabric or old panty hose. Leave a little slack around the stems. The general idea with staking is to limit the vines to a couple of main stems, which requires regular pruning. Supporting tomatoes in wire cylinders or cages is also popular. This method requires more work initially, but there's no need to prune or train the plant. Don't waste your money on cheap commercial cages; they're too small, and they break apart easily and topple over. Instead, buy extra-large cages or make your own from concrete reinforcing wire or galvanized wire mesh. Make sure the holes are large enough to get your hand through to harvest tomatoes without damaging them. You'll need about 3 ft. of material for every 1 ft. diameter of cage. Aim for a cage 24 to 30 in. dia., and hook the ends together. (If you're using several cages, make each one successively smaller by a couple of inches so you can nest them inside each other for easy storage.) Place the cages around the plants, and anchor them with stakes driven into the ground on one or two sides. Or, remove the bottom cross wires on the cage, and push the prongs into the soil for support. •Give them TLC. Tomatoes aren't one of those crops you can plant and forget. Check soil moisture and give plants 1 to 1 1/2 in. of water weekly, if not supplied by rain. Try not to splash water on leaves. About a month after planting—once the soil has really warmed up—apply a3- to 4-in. layer of organic mulch, such as weed-free straw. If you mulch too soon, the soil will stay cool, delaying the harvest. If plants are staked, regularly pinch off the small suckers that sprout between the leafy branches and main stems. Don't cut—a knife can spread disease. Give all plants a boost during the growing season by applying a 5-10-5 or 5-10-10 fertilizer according to package directions. The best times to fertilize are when fruits are about golf ball?size and again when the first tomatoes are ripe. And speaking of ripe, pick tomatoes when they are firm and fully colored. Taste one while it's still warm from the sun and you'll know why tomatoes rank No. 1 with home gardeners. • • •Q: Stuck with leggy plants?
A: Short, stocky plants are best for transplanting, but if you have no choice but to plant seedlings that are tall and leggy, try this trench-planting method: Remove the lower leaves of the plant, leaving the top leaf cluster of four to five leaves. Then lay the plant on its side in a trench and cover the roots and bare stem with about 3 in. of soil. Gently firm the soil and water. Roots will grow along the buried stem.
Ask TOH users about Gardening

Contribute to This Story Below