My first foray into growing tomatoes didn’t go as well as I had hoped. Like many first-time gardeners, my plants started to lean to one side. Eventually, the entire plant fell!
Tomato plants fall over because of lack of support, fungal diseases, or transplant shock. It can also fall because there are many tomatoes that are heavy for the plant. If you don’t provide the weak stem with a good support like a tomato cage, stake, or trellis, the plant will topple over.
Many don’t realize it, but most tomato plants are actually vines. There are several exceptions. But many of the most popular cultivars are vining plants. Even still, bush varieties can get weighed down and topple over.
I knew if I wanted to have a successful harvest, I needed to figure out why this was happening and how to stop it. Here’s what I learned.
Why Are My Tomato Plants Falling Over?
Ultimately, the reason tomato plants fall over is weight and a lack of natural support.
Tomatoes have gone through some major changes since they entered the world of agriculture. Many believe that these crops are native to the Americas. Early Aztecs reportedly grew them.
However, they didn’t look like the plump fruits we know today! Wild tomatoes were tiny!
Thanks to advances in cross-breeding, careful cultivation, and some lucky mutations, the tomato evolved to become much heftier.
While the fruit changed a lot, the plant itself didn’t! You see, tomato plants could easily support the ancient tomatoes of yesteryear, which were similar in size to a grape.
But the huge tomatoes we have now? The plants often struggle.
Modern tomato plants have tall, thin, and flexible stems. Once the heavy foliage and fruits start to appear, those stems experience a lot of stress.
To make matters worse, vines can get very long. Most plants have no problem getting five to six feet tall. But they’re fully capable of getting up to 12 feet tall!
When you combine the weight of the fruits, the thin build of the stem, and the height of the plant, you have a recipe for disaster! Tomato plants need support. Otherwise, toppled plants are going to be the norm.
Why a Toppled Tomato Plant is Bad
Despite their vining nature, tomato plants should not grow on the ground. There are a few different reasons for this.
Plus, there’s the issue of bugs. Pesky garden insects will have easier access to the fruit. Even if you don’t have fruit just yet, their presence on the leaves and stem of your plant can wreak havoc!
Another big issue that comes with toppled plants is overcrowding. As we mentioned earlier, tomato plants can be several feet tall. After the plant falls, that foliage is suddenly overcrowding nearby plants.
This reduces sun exposure and limits air circulation. All of a sudden, your garden becomes a breeding ground for fungus. Who wants that?
How Do You Restore a Tomato Plant That Has Fallen Over?
If your plant has fallen over, there’s good news. You can still save your tomato plant. But, you have to ask fast!
Oftentimes, falling over results in a partial or full break. When that break has a chance to dry, the odds of your plant coming back to life decrease dramatically.
Here are some techniques that you can use to save your plant. The techniques differ based on the condition of the stem.
1. Simple Bends
The best-case scenario is that the stem of the plant only bends slightly. Examine the bend closely and make sure that the surface is not torn in any way.
If it’s not, that means that the plant can still deliver nutrients up to the foliage and vice versa.
To fix this issue, you need to create a plant splint. Splints are just two pieces of narrow wood that you’re going to use to support the plant. Use pieces of wood that are at least two inches long.
Now, lift the plant gently to restore the bend to its original upright position. Place the splints over the bend, ensuring that the splints support the stem on both sides. Wrap grafting tape over the splints and stem.
Support the plant with a cage or trellis as the bend heals. Keep an eye on the healing process, as you’ll need to remove it once the plant starts growing again.
2. Partial Breaks
If you have a partial tear, you need to handle the plant carefully. To promote healing, you’re going to perform the same steps that you would with a basic bend.
But, you need to make sure that the pieces of the broken stem are knit back together. This should be easy because the stem is still attached.
Close the tear, apply your stint, and wrap it with grafting tape.
3. Complete Severs
You can reattach a severed plant pretty easily if you catch it fast enough. Again, make sure that you examine the ends of the tear. You can only do this if both ends are still fresh.
Line the broken portion upon the stem. Press the two open wounds together and wrap the tear with grafting tape.
Then, apply your stint on both sides. Apply some more grafting tape and support the plant. This injury will take time to heal, so check on in daily and make adjustments as needed.
4. Dried Stems
If the ends of the break are dried, you will need to make some grafting cuts. There are several grafting techniques you can use. Choose a cut that you’re comfortable with.
The most basic is a diagonal cut. Snip off the dried ends at an angle. Then, line up the two diagonal cuts to restore the stem.
Wrap the cut with grafting tape. Use an extra-long stint and make sure that it extends several inches past the cut. Wrap the stint with tape and wait for the graft to take.
How Do You Keep Tomato Plants From Falling Over?
The best way to prevent your tomato plant from falling over is to provide some external support. Extra support will give the plant something to rest on as it grows.
This eliminates stress on the stem and keeps the plant in good shape. You have a few different support options for tomato plants.
I conducted a poll asking tomato gardeners their favorite methods. 39% prefer to use a tomato cage while 21% found a stake useful. You can see all the results of the poll below,
1. Single Stakes
Purchase a simple garden stake. It can be made of wood, plastic, or even metal. Get a stake that’s six to eight feet long. Hammer it into the soil next to your plant. Ideally, the stake should penetrate up to eight inches deep for maximum support.
Once the plant is about six inches tall, use twine to tie the stem to the stake. Continue doing this as the plant grows.
Whenever you see tomato suckers, prune them off. The suckers are the small offshoots that sprout from the stem.
The goal here is to force the plant’s energy into strengthening the stem. By pruning the plant, you’re eliminating new growth beyond the main stem. Do this every few days to prevent the plant from toppling over in the future.
One of the most popular support methods is using a cage. Tomato cages are easy to set up and readily available at most gardening centers.
After your plants have started growing, simply place the cage over the plant. Secure it into the soil with a bit of pressure.
The cage should surround the young plant.
Once the plant is long enough to touch the cage, use twine to secure the vine to the cage. You should continue to do this throughout the growing season. Aim to keep the plant contained within the cage for optimal support.
Trellises are ideal if you have several tomato plants in a single row. Instead of caging them individually, you can install a trellis to support all of the plants at once.
You can get premade trellises or make your own! There are tons of designs to try out.
No matter what material or design you choose, the basic concept is simple. Create a durable grid pattern that can support growing vines.
Like the other methods, tie the vine onto the trellis as it grows. Depending on the design, you could wrap the vines around horizontal supports to ensure that fruits are stable once they come in.
4. Florida Weave
Finally, we have the Florida Weave. This is a cost-effective option that you can use if you have a lot of vining tomato plants.
The trick here is to create a simple trellis with durable twine. Instead of tying the vines as they grow, you’re going to let them grow between the pieces of twine.
Place two durable stakes on both ends of your garden. Line them up so that they are directly in the center of your row of plants. Now, tie a line of twine from one stake to the other.
Once you reach the other end, pull the line tight and double back. You should have two pieces of twine running alongside one another. Repeat the process several inches higher.
As your tomato plant grows, direct the vine in between those two pieces of parallel twine. It’s as simple as that! The plant will naturally rest on the twine, preventing it from falling over.
What Are Some Bush Varieties of Tomato Plants?
Don’t want to worry about supporting your tomatoes at all? Instead of growing vining varieties, you can stick with bush tomatoes!
Bush varieties usually don’t get taller than three feet. Rather than growing vertically in a vine, they spread out horizontally. The plant is fully contained in a smaller space.
As a result, most don’t need a ton of support at all! You can grow them in a small garden or even keep them in containers.
Here are just a few bush varieties worth checking out.
Bush Champion tomatoes are compact plants with a lot to offer in terms of harvest. Typically, these plants are mature in only 65 to 70 days. Once they reach maturity, they can continue providing fruit for months!
Here’s an heirloom variety that can provide you with fruits quickly. The plants were developed for short growing seasons. But, they’re still tolerant to a range of climates.
New Big Dwarf
Reaching only two feet in height, New Big Dwarf tomatoes are excellent for small gardens. They take about 60 days to reach harvest. With proper care, fruits can get as big as a pound!
506 Bush tomatoes are even smaller than New Big Dwarf varieties. They reach a maximum height of 18 inches. The plants are drought-tolerant and produce sweet fruits that are perfect for salads.
If you want flavorful tomatoes without taking up a ton of space in the garden, try the Red Rocket variety. The bushing plant is compact and only takes about 60 days to mature.