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Kitchen Gardens
Published April 25, 2024 by Nicole Burke

The Complete Guide to Growing Tomatoes on an Arch Trellis

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how to grow
arch trellis
how to prune
how to trellis tomatoes

Tips for Growing Tomatoes on an Arch Trellis

To me, one of the most beautiful sights in a kitchen garden is a metal arch trellis covered in lush tomato vines. Every summer, I diligently prune and fertilize my tomato plants, waiting with excitement for that moment when the vines on either side of my arch trellis finally meet at the top.

Beyond the beauty, vining tomatoes flourish when they're given an entire arch trellis to climb. If your tomato growing season is long enough, you can even reverse your vines to grow back down the trellis. Plus, tending is easier because you're growing the plants on the outside of the support structure and can easily train vines upwards. Fruits are held in place, making harvests extra convenient.

Follow these steps to grow your own tomatoes on an arch trellis and maximize the growth you can get from a small space in your raised bed. (If you prefer to watch, I have a video series starting with the video below.)

What Do You Need to Grow Tomatoes on an Arch Trellis?

You'll need a couple things (like an arch trellis, obviously!) in order to grow your tomatoes the Gardenary way this season.

Here's your must-have list:

  • an arch trellis
  • a raised bed or two
  • a great soil blend
  • at least 2 indeterminate tomato plants per trellis

Let's consider each of these more closely.

tomatoes on trellis

An Arch Trellis to Support Your Tomato Plants

A trellis is kinda an essential ingredient to growing tomatoes on an arch trellis, you know?

We have lots of arch trellis kits in our Gardenary shop. These kits can be shipped all over the continental states and arrive in a box. Kits require minimal tools to assemble and install. You can also search around for a kit available in your area.

When you install this type of arch trellis in your garden, make sure to dig up the soil at least 12 inches down and then backfill once you've pushed the base of the trellis down (or install your trellis before you fill your beds with soil) to make the trellis as sturdy as possible. It's about to support a lot of weight!

grow tomatoes in raised beds with trellis
Shop Gardenary Trellises

A Raised Garden Bed to Grow Tomatoes

Tomatoes are deep-rooted plants that love the extra depth provided by some kind of raised structure. I, of course, highly recommend growing tomatoes in raised beds. (If you need some help with the set up, check out my book, Kitchen Garden Revival.)

I recommend a box at least 2 feet deep and 2 feet wide so that your tomatoes have plenty of space to grow. If you'd like to span your arch trellis between two raised beds, well, then you'll need two raised beds.

You can always try growing tomatoes in the ground, but I've found they have too many nutritional and space needs to make this very successful.

tomatoes on modern arch trellis

A Great Soil Blend for Your Tomatoes

Make sure your raised bed or large container is filled with a nutrient-rich soil blend. I highly recommend my 103 mix. (Again, you can find my exact specifications for this mix in my book, Kitchen Garden Revival.)

If you're not using the 103, just make sure to use a great organic soil blend. Don't use any Miracle-Gro or synthetic stuff. I promise, you can find so much success growing your tomatoes naturally.

growing tomatoes cherry

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Indeterminate Tomato Plants to Vine Over Your Arch Trellis

Of course you need some tomato plants, but did you know there are actually two different types? There are determinate and indeterminate varieties.

Determinate Varieties

This is your bush or patio tomato plant. This type grows to be about 4 to 6 feet tall, produces all its fruits at once, and then finishes growing. This is obviously not the type we want for a tall trellis.

Indeterminate Varieties

This is your vining tomato plant, the type we want to grow next to an arch trellis so that it'll climb up the side. Vining tomatoes will literally grow and grow and grow and never stop until the temperatures don't work for them anymore—either it's too hot or too cold. You can grow larger types, but I've found the best production and most beautiful fruit with smaller ones like the grape and cherry types. My favorites are Black Cherry, Sungolds, and Juliets.

Instead of sowing seeds directly in your garden, you'll plant a tomato starter plant you grew yourself indoors or bought from a local nursery.

How to grow tomatoes on an arch trellis

Steps for Planting Tomatoes on a Trellis

Now that you know what you need, let's start growing those tomatoes!

Here are the overall steps you'll follow:

  • Plant indeterminate tomatoes alongside an arch trellis
  • Prune each young plant to one main stem
  • Support your tomato plants as they grow with compost/organic fertilizer
  • Prune damaged leaves and those leaves not involved in fruit production
  • Tie your vines to the arch trellis
  • Harvest fruits continuously
  • Top off the plant before the end of the growing season
  • Remove plant from garden

Now, I'll walk you through each step.

tips for growing tomatoes on trellis

Step One

Plant Your Tomatoes Alongside the Arch Trellis

Once all chance of frost has passed, it's time to plant your little baby tomato plants in the garden. (Learn more about when to start tomatoes indoors and when to transplant them outdoors in our tomato growing guide.)

I recommend planting two tomato plants on each side of the arch trellis, so four tomato plants total per trellis. Most arches are about 12 to 15 inches across on the sides, and that's a great width for one tomato plant on each corner.

Planting two tomato plants this close together breaks the "plant spacing rules", but the plants will still be super healthy thanks to the depth of the raised structure and the good soil. We're obviously going to be training their growth upwards, so you don't have to worry about giving them too much room to spread out side to side. Even so, if intensive planting makes you nervous, you can always put just one tomato plant in the center of each side of your trellis, so two plants total per trellis.

You can always vary the types of tomatoes you plant, but I like to plant the same type on each side so that they'll grow at roughly the same rate and mirror each other.

planting tomatoes on a trellis

Tips to Plant Tomato Plants

You'll plant your tomatoes a bit differently than you would other plants, which are typically buried up to the neck (where the stem breaks from the roots). Tomatoes should actually be buried deeper. Dig a deep enough hole so that you can cover the first set of leaves with dirt. The leaves and stem of the tomato plant will produce new roots when buried in soil, which strengthens the main stem and forms a sturdy foundation for the plant. It might not seem important now, but think of all the weight your little plant will have to carry later when it's bearing all those juicy orbs of fruit.

Make sure to plant each tomato transplant right next to the trellis.

tomato trellis how to

Step Two

Prune the Tomato Plant to One Main Stem

The main goal when your tomato plants are just starting to grow is to prune them to just one main stem. If you notice a second main stem that already has little flower buds, you can leave it, but overall, it's best to focus on one strong main stem to care for. Prune any secondary stems until the plant produces its first set of flowers.

Before each use, wipe down your pruners with rubbing alcohol to avoid spreading disease to your tomato plants.

tomato trellis diy

Step Three

Support Your Tomato Plants as They Grow

While your plants are growing, there's a second way for you to support them besides tying their vines to the trellis, and that's with nutrients. Tomato plants are super hungry; they need a ton of nutrients to keep producing. Once a week, water your tomato plants deeply and give them more food.

You can do this simply by adding more compost around the base of the plants. You could instead add composted chicken manure or some earthworm castings. Make this a weekly routine.

How to grow tomatoes on an arch trellis with Nicole Burke

Step Four

Prune Damaged Leaves and Those Leaves Not Involved in Fruit Production

Every week when you step out to feed your tomato plants, bring a clean pair of pruners and prune some greenery. There are two types of pruning to do: removing damaged or unhealthy leaves and removing extra leaves that aren't involved in fruit production.

Removing Damaged/Unhealthy Leaves

Once your first set of flowers appear, prune weekly. Start at the base of the plant and work your way up, removing any leaves that don't look healthy (they're yellowing or they have spots or holes). Cut right at the base of the leaf.

The golden rule of pruning is to never remove more than a third of one plant in one week. If you find yourself needing to cut more than that, then your plant is likely diseased or suffering intense pest pressure, and it's probably best to say bye bye to Miss Tomato Plant.

pest damage on tomato plant

Removing Leaves That Aren't Involved in Fruit Production

One mistake I made when I first grew tomatoes was not pruning heavily enough. We prune with the goal of having fewer leaves on the plant, and more flowers and fruit. Extra leaves just drain the plant's resources.

I also used to prune the suckers from the vines. Suckers are those little extra vines that grow between the main stem and a leaf (I like to call this the elbow of the plant). Many gardeners remove the suckers with the goal of getting bigger tomatoes to harvest. What I've found is that if you leave the suckers, you end up with way more tomatoes. That's because the suckers are the vines that produce the most fruit. (I personally think they should be called saviors instead of suckers.)

Instead of pruning the suckers, I'll prune part of the L that the sucker is growing out of. I focus my pruning on the bottom of the plant and leave the top to branch out more and climb. Pruning the growing tip of a tomato plant will stunt its growth. You also want the top leaves to form that nice canopy that will soak up lots of sun and photosynthesize for the plant.

When in doubt, look for parts of the plant that are already forming flowers. Make sure to keep those parts and cut some of the leaves that are just hanging out and not forming any flowers. Keep the golden rule in mind.

Shop Gardenary Trellises

Step Five

Tie Your Tomato Vines to the Trellis

About once a week, tie your tomato plants along the rungs of your arch trellis to help them stay securely in place no matter what kind of weather they might be exposed to. This utilizes the arch trellis to support your plant and encourage as much production as possible. It's important to do this only after you've pruned because you don't want to tie up something you're just going to remove.

You'll need twine and scissors. There are lots of fancy materials you can buy to tie up tomatoes, but I like good ol' jute twine. Jute is a natural fiber, it doesn't scar the plant at all, and it's super easy to untie when I'm done. You can get a ball of twine for around $2.

Take each little vine and hold it up next to the closest rung on the trellis. Using a 10-inch long piece of twine, tie right above that rung so that the rung helps hold the vine in place. Avoid tying too tightly. Tomato stems are fragile, so take your time here. (The last thing you want to do is accidentally break off a fruiting stem because that would be such a bummer.) I tie a little bow instead of a knot—that way, I can easily adjust it as needed. Repeat for each and every one of your stems.

As the plant grows upward, you can spread out the vines to really cover the whole trellis.

tomato trellis for raised beds

Step Six

Harvest Fruits Continuously

It'll be a while before you should expect to see fruit forming on your plants. Most tomatoes—if they were started off right at home or at a great local nursery—will be vining and fruiting for you in about 65 days. And then, tomatoes take nearly as long to ripen as they do to form in the first place. So you'll need a bit of patience. (Learn more about the tomato ripening process.)

When you do see fruits ripening on the vine, harvest frequently to encourage your plant to produce more fruits.

growing tomatoes raised beds

Step Seven

Top Off Tomatoes Near the End of the Growing Season

You might notice that some of the leaves are changing now that the tomato plants have spent several months in your garden. The plants will probably be showing signs of wear and tear at the bottom, while the top continues to flower and push new vine growth. It's time to change tack. We don't want any more new growth now that the warm season is coming to an end.

Instead, what we want is for all those green tomatoes still on the plant to ripen as quickly as possible. You can speed up this process by topping off the vines of your tomato plants. I recommend doing this as early as 30 days before your first anticipated frost date to give all those green tomatoes on the vine enough time to finish up.

To top off your tomatoes, simply use your pruners to cut the end of each vine. I like to cut right above the last truss of fruit. This tells the plant to stop putting any more energy into growing bigger and to put all of its energy into finishing the fruiting process. 

If you've succeeded at growing your vines all the way to the top of the trellis, then you might need a ladder if you can't safely climb onto the sides of your raised beds to reach the canopy. (Also, yay! Give yourself a pat on the back!)

Step Eight

Remove Tomato Vines

All good things must come to an end, right? It's time to remove your tomato vines from the kitchen garden once they have enjoyed 90 to 120 days growing on your arch trellis. The plants are likely past their prime, they might even be slowing down their production, and frost is looming. Leaving tomato vines on the arch trellis beyond their optimal growing period often welcomes pests and disease into your kitchen garden.

That means your garden will be healthier if you remove these tired vines and plant something that thrives in cooler weather, like sugar snap peas, fava beans, or runner beans.

If you still have fruit on the vine that needs to be harvested, cut the formed trusses and bring them indoors. Even if fruit is still green, it can continue to ripen in a windowsill or inside a brown bag. Smaller fruits will not grow once cut and will need to be sacrificed to the changing of the seasons.

Use pruners to cut the vine right at the soil level. Leave the roots in the garden to avoid disturbing other plants and all the beneficial microbes in the soil. Untie the jute bows you added in Step 5, and cut the vines about halfway up to make them easier to manage. (Watch how I remove tomato vines from my trellis in this video.)

So, make a plan for when you'll remove your existing tomato vines and start again with the next season's plants.

tomato trellis raised bed

Repeat Next Year

All right, friends, we've done it. Your garden has come full circle and is now clear of those glorious vines you trained up your trellis. It's kind of sad, isn't it? It's the closing of one season and the beginning of a new one, which is bittersweet but exciting at the same time. Note down anything you want to do differently next year and get ready to start the cycle again soon!

I hope this inspires you to enjoy the magic of the kitchen garden this season and every single season!

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The Complete Guide to Growing Tomatoes on an Arch Trellis