The lower and lean method of trellising indeterminate tomatoes in a hoop house has many advantages. Ease of working conditions and maximum fruit production are the key features of this style of tomato growing. When done properly pruning along with lowering and leaning will increase productivity and keep your plants healthier.
When you use the right equipment including support structures, trellis line, hooks, tomato clips, and a good set of clippers you will see:
The tomato vine is supported.
A practical working height for the plant and farmer is established.
The vines can grow up to 40-70 feet long with vigorous fruit production throughout their life.
Airflow throughout the hoop house is increased, which reduces pest pressure and the opportunity for fungal issues to take hold.
Consistent lowering and leaning of vines keeps you down off of a ladder.
Working on a ladder in the hoop house adds the risk of injury particularly when you are using both hands to work the plant. It is also darn hot in the upper regions of the house. Keeping your working zone closer to cross ventilation and shade will dramatically improve your comfort level as well as the comfort of your plants.
What is the difference between an indeterminate and a determinate tomato?
Indeterminate tomatoes, also referred to as vine tomatoes, have no predetermined height. This type will continue to lengthen and branch over a long growing season. Their flowering time is likewise undetermined meaning they will continue to flower and fruit as long as proper growing conditions are maintained. Indeterminate tomatoes are the ideal types for trellising.
Determinate or bush tomatoes will grow to a predetermined height, generally between 3-4 feet, and then produce a large quantity of fruit that all ripens within a limited time frame. These types are used most frequently for canning and processing. Determinate tomatoes are better suited to caging or basket weaving support structures.
Tools you need to properly lower and lean your tomato plants
Support Structure - Typically in hoop houses this is a high wire structure which we will cover building in the next part of this series.
Hooks - Used to hold the trellis line to the support structure. We prefer roller hook assemblies.
Trellis Line - Be sure to use UV resistant lines.
Stem Clips or Ties - Clips are the fastest option. Order in bulk for best prices, you will need a lot.
Clippers - For pruning in tight spaces we recommend using ones with pointed tips.
How to Choose the Right Tomato Hooks
There are two main types of tomato hooks that hold twine and secure it to a high wire trellis. Nick at Bootstrap Farmer prefers the roller hooks where twine is let down from a pre-rolled spool by squeezing the wire cage assembly. This type allows for easy and precise lowering of the line and hooks securely to trellis wire without tangling.
The other type is made of a single piece of wire bent in a shape that has hooks on both ends and space to wrap twine. They are usually sold according to how the extra twine is wrapped, often referred to as V-hook, O-hook, or horsetail-hook. They have a tendency to tangle easily.
The Four Sections of a Trellised Tomato
When properly trellised using the lower and lean method the vine has the room for the four parts of production:
The crown and flowering part of the vine where new growth is established. By lowering each plant as it grows you will keep this zone out of the hottest part of the hoop house.
The fruit set and vegetative zone where flowers become fruit clusters and a canopy of leaves help the plant transpire while shading all of the fruit below.
The ripening and harvest zone where the fruit can be easily inspected and harvested at a comfortable working height for the farmer. The ideal space for the harvest zone is a level even with the knees to shoulder range of the person who will be doing the harvesting.
The heavy prune zone where a bare stock is cleaned of old clusters, suckers, and leaves. These pruned parts have served their purpose but are now taking nutrients and water away from the top part of the plant which is still growing and producing fruit.
This bare pruning helps create airflow at the base where roll up side cross ventilation can help keep vines cool and aid in pollination. The lowering of the vines further help airflow at the top part of the hoop house where air is hottest.
Which way do you lean the plants when you trellis tomatoes?
To make the most of your available space while trellising tomatoes, you will alternate directions when leaning the plants. This means as you move each plant you will leapfrog it past the next plant that is headed in the opposite direction. This is done by pulling the hook from the support wire and moving around and past the next plant. Carefully attach the top of the vine with a clip below the lead sucker and prune as needed. Depending on your working preferences, you can prune each vine before you lean it or after.
For vines that are overgrown you may need to prune a significant amount before you lean the plant. It is always easiest to prune the bare stem section before you lower the plant to save too much bending over to cut. When you lower the vine aim to have the crown around 6 inches below the support wire. This provides ample space at the top of the house to vent and circulate hot air while protecting the new growth.
Some growers will lean plants in groups of two. The first plant or two will head towards the back of the house. The space left by leaning the first plant will make space for you to lean the next plant in line towards the front of the house. Alternate leaning directions as you travel down each row switching sides as needed to prune comfortably.
How to Manage Tomato Trellises at the End of the Row
When you reach the end of the row you will wrap the vine past and around existing stems to create the “racetrack” of stems that circles each row. This keeps the vines close to the root section of the plant and out of the foot traffic in your paths. Keeping the bare vines up off the ground and out of the paths makes working the plants much easier. It also keeps the plants from being damaged by an errant boot.
Keeping up with vine growth in the hoop house is easiest if you plan to prune, lower and lean a day or two after each harvest. Following these steps every week will help you grow wildly productive plants throughout the growing season. Using proper equipment from the outset will keep you and your plants out of the hottest part of the hoop house.
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Coming up next
In the next part of this series we will address how to build a trellis system in your hoop house along with how to calculate what supplies you will need. The fourth part will go over possible issues you will run into in the processes of pruning, lowering and leaning. In that article we will also address what to do in the event your plants have become overgrown. We will also discuss how to succession plant rows for continual harvests throughout your growing season.
Need help with Overgrown, Unmanageable tomato plants? Follow along as we prune an entire hoop house of tomatoes. Read more about growing, pruning, and trellising tomatoes with the lower and lean method at Bootstrap Farmer today!
Here we will walk you through how to prune and trellis to get the most from your plants. Each of the articles in this series has an accompanying video to let you see the process in action. With Nick from Bootstrap Farmer we start off this four part series by walking you through how to identify and prune the parts of indeterminate tomato plants.
In this article we cover selecting the proper wire cable diameter based on the number of plants you will be growing and show our best practices for anchoring cables to your hoop house. Trellising indeterminate tomatoes allows vines to grow vertically which aids in cooling the vine and healthy fruit sets. It also allows the farmer to efficiently maintain and harvest crops for a full growing season while keeping the house’s pest and disease pressure to a minimum.