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How to Install a Lean-and-Lower Trellis System for Tomatoes

Lynn has been a professional organic farmer for the last 35 years and runs a 210-acre farm in Western Colorado with her husband.

The lean-and-lower trellis system can dramatically increase your tomato plants' yield.

The lean-and-lower trellis system can dramatically increase your tomato plants' yield.

Why Use a Trellis for Tomatoes?

Do you love to grow tomatoes, but are devastated when you see how many tomatoes have rotted under the plants that you could otherwise have eaten? If you love tomatoes as much as I do, you hate to waste even a single one. The solution to this is to put in a professional trellising system that will keep your plants under control, keep your tomatoes up out of the dirt, and make tomato growing easy and fun.

Long before becoming a professional organic farmer, I struggled with tomato cages in my home garden. They were always falling over, and the tomato plants were so thick and bushy that I couldn't find the tomatoes to pick them. By the time I found them, they were rotten.

Trellising Tomatoes Leads to Maximum Yield

When my husband and I decided to grow tomatoes professionally, we were trained in a professional trellising system, and we've never looked back. We love this system, and we teach it worldwide. Now we get the highest production, with no rotten, lost tomatoes.

We call our lean-and-lower trellis the racetrack; the plants on one side all lean one way, and then on the other side, they lean the other way, and they just keep going round and round and round—a perpetual growing system for tomatoes that takes up a fraction of the space!

How to Use a Lean-and-Lower Trellis for Tomatoes

The system that I'm going to discuss in this article is called "lean and lower." It's a pretty neat system to get the plants trellised and to keep the fruit up out of the soil. There are five steps to the lean-and-lower method.

1. Use an Indeterminate Tomato Plant

First, you need to use an indeterminate tomato plant; you want one that will continually grow (as in its indeterminate when it's going to finish).

2. Prep the Plant to Have 1 Stem to 1 Root Ball

We want one stem to one root ball, and we're going to grow the plants 12 inches apart.

3. Remove Suckers as the Plant Grows

Once you have your one stem that's tied to one root ball, you'll want to cut off all the suckers that grow (this will keep your plant to just one stem). The suckers will grow in the joints of the leaves. You usually get one in each leaf joint, so be sure to trim those off as the plants go up.

4. Tie the Tomato Plant to the Trellis

Right, now we want to tie the plants to the trellis. There are different trellis systems. The kind we use in our production houses features a chain-link pole with a crossbar and a wire on top. You'll want to tie the plants to that.

You can do this using tomato clips and tomato twine. Simply clip the plants to the twine up over the trellis.

5. Lower and Lean When Plants Get Too Tall

We are working with the top 5 feet of the plant, so from the soil to the top of the trellis, we have about five feet. As these plants grow and grow and grow and they get too tall, just take them down from the trellis (after harvesting any ripe fruit), lean the plant sideways, and then tie it back up to the trellis so the plant will grow sideways and up the string.

The tomato fruit needs to be up out of the soil so the bugs don't eat it, but once the fruit is harvested from the stem, it is okay for the stem to be on the soil. The stem will have the leaves removed as it is laid down and all of the fruiting parts of the plant will be up in the air. In other words, only the part that is up in the air will have fruit and leaves.

I've heard that these plants can grow for eight years. I've never done that because we always take ours out in the wintertime, but by the time we're done with these plants, they're about 17 feet tall. So I have 12 feet laying sideways on the bed and then I turn them up and work with the last five feet of the plant.

How to Use This Kind of Trellis in a Home Garden

If you want to use the lean-and-lower method in your home garden, you'll want to start with an easy trellis made out of PVC pipe (see video above). Similar to the professional setup, this trellis will have strings with the same clips, and the tomato plants will grow up. But instead of going all the way down the bed and all the way back, they're just going to go in a circle around the garden.

As these plants grow up to the top, you'll lean and lower them sideways, getting that same perpetual motion where you can keep the plants going the entire season as long as you want in the same system.

Good Luck With Your Tomatoes!

This is a super neat system for professionals or for home gardeners, and with a little practice, it might just become your favorite way to grow tomatoes (and to actually harvest all the tomatoes that you grow). May your garden be easy, fun, productive, and always organic.

More Tomato-Growing Tips

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2021 Lynn Gillespie

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