Espalier tomatoes are perfect for the home garden, due to their relative ease with which they are grown, their color, the number of nutritional benefits, and because it is an excellent delicacy that can be cooked in many ways.
Tomatoes are one of the most consumed fruits by humans throughout the world. It can be used to make salads, casseroles, or sauces. It’s tremendously nutritious, and its cultivation is not complicated at all. However, if you want to be successful planting espalier tomatoes, you must take some essential things into account to get the most out of it.
How to Plant Espalier Tomatoes Step by Step
Where? In a place with maximum sun exposure.
Harvest time? 2.5 months.
How do we prepare the soil? Ideally plowed, soft and well-draining soil.
Distance between seeds? Between 15 and 22 inches.
Substrate and compost? Animal and vegetable.
How do we start? With seeds (greater difficulty) or seedlings (easier).
Ideal watering option? Drip.
How often do we water? Daily or every other day (depending on heat and rain). Between 30 and 60 minutes drip (depending on the temperature).
Which requires? Drained soil and lots and lots of sunlight.
What do we sow next to it? Onion, garlic, lettuce, carrot, and broccoli.
What should we NOT plant nearby? Potatoes and cabbages.
What common diseases does it have? Whitefly, mites, fungi, spider mites.
Buy certified seeds
Start by buying certified seeds, or you can take some seeds of your organic bought espalier tomatoes (we recommend that you do not wash them, dry them up a bit with an absorbent paper towel and put them in the soil).
We like the 7 Varieties Non-GMO Organic Slicing Heirloom Tomato Seeds, which includes different variations of Beefsteak Tomato, Black Krim Tomato Seeds, Golden Queen, Cherokee Purple Seeds, Brandywine Pink Tomato Seeds, Pineapple Heirloom, and Hillbilly. They are certified organic and non-GMO.
Tips on How to Plant Espalier Tomatoes
- Your plants will require good spacing, pots of around 5 gallons, and 18-22 inches in diameter. Remember that the containers filter the nutrients frequently (every time you water the nutrients escape through the holes), so fertilize regularly.
- It is recommended to cover the holes on the bottom of the pot with fine mesh. Also, fill the bottom 3 inches with small rocks to help with drainage.
- Prepare the soil. You will need fertilizer, organic compost, and other nutrients as well. Using fertilizer (especially during the flowering season) is vital. Use broad-spectrum fertilizers (containing nitrogen, but not in excess). An excess of nitrogen can lead tomato plants to grow very large and have many leaves, but no fruit.
- Avoid fertilizers that contain pesticides or herbicides; you can use these tips to avoid the use of pesticides, use an organic one, or even make your own.
- If you are planting from a seedling, put it in the pot up to the top 4 to 6 leaves. This way, the stem will grow roots and be strong enough to support the tomato tree’s weight.
- Leave at least 24-27 inches between the plants, so they have good air circulation and do not cast shadows.
- When the first leaves come out, we must prune those at the bottom of the stem. This way, you’ll get the tomato plant to grow stronger.
- Prune the branches near the base if they are dying. It is not necessary to go mad with pruning but use your judgment. Pruning will allow for the nutrients to reach the fruit easily.
- Prune unnecessary branches coming from the V-joints so that the branches that you keep have room to grow.
- Tomato plants require many hours of light. Therefore, put them in a place where the sun will shine for a good part of the day.
- Water the plant every day, preferably early morning.
- Make sure the pot drainage is working correctly; it is a common mistake to ‘drown’ tomato plants this way.
- Keep an eye on your plants. Plant some extra ones in case some die, and if they survive, how about giving a tomato plant to a good friend?
- Tomatoes, like many vegetables and fruits, require soil with a slightly acidic PH (6.5-6.8). If you have doubts about what that means, consult your local nursery, and they can guide you on which type of soil meets these requirements.
Watching Your Espalier Tomatoes Grow
Even the smallest varieties of espalier tomatoes, such as the cherry tomato, will surprise you with their growth and size, so give them a trellis or support stick after planting them. It will guide the plant and support the weight on its branches.
Avoid handling the fruits during their development. Although it might be tempting to move them around, so they get more sun, it is essential to touch the plant as little as possible so as not to harm it.
When the tomatoes ripen, you can cut them, avoiding puncturing the plant and use pruning scissors to take each tomato, cutting diagonally on the upper stem.
Try to create certain habits around caring for your plant, such as watering it every morning while you have your morning coffee or checking the leaves in the afternoons when you return from work to prevent and attack any impending problem as soon as possible.
Benefits of growing Espalier Tomatoes
The branches of some climbing varieties of horticultural plants tend to break easily. The weight of the fruits and the rapid vertical growth of the plants, which makes them vulnerable to winds, can break them. Espalier tomatoes will require a structure to guide the plant and keep it safe.
The solid structure also makes tending the tomato plant easier as all the branches are accessible. It facilitates harvesting and stripping, and help control pests and diseases easier. As the branches are spread out, the leaves will get a better chance to dry, and there is less chance of blight and other diseases taking a hold on the plant.
Another benefit of growing this way is that by spreading the branches out, the fruit receives maximum sunlight. If your trellis is fixed to a wall, the warmth from it will also speed up the fruit’s ripening time.
You now need to decide on a good sunny position. Remember that healthy tomato plants need from 6 to 8 hours of sunlight.
To guide the espalier tomato plants, we can build a wooden, solid structure or buy one of the many designed trellises you can find in the market.
Different types of trellis
To build your own, you can create a simple structure in a triangular shape, that will help the plant to be supported when the fruit comes out. Check out the picture below.
Start by placing three vertical sticks surrounding the tomato plant, and join them at the top. If you have space and can plant a whole row of espalier tomatoes, you could add a horizontal stick joining each structure at the top.
Our favorite material is bamboo. Hydrofarm – Pack of 25 Bamboo Stakes are the best in the market. They come in different heights and are made from renewable natural materials.
If you are more of an ascetic gardener and don’t want to DIY, a purchased trellis would be your best option.
The first step is to decide on the trellis-style you want to use.
These are our favorites:
Mininfa Natural Bamboo Trellis, it’s premium bamboo, eco-friendly, very sturdy, and flexible. It has been heat-treated to prevent mold and insect issues. There is no need to assemble, and it can be stuck into the ground or secured onto a wall, fence, or near a pot. It has a 2-years money-back guarantee, so you can trust this is the best quality.
Garden Land Expandable Trellis is made of 100% real willow. It is adjustable, and it can also be used as a fence or a divider in your garden.
If you don’t want to attach it to the wall, then these are your options:
Mininfa has another option, which we also like, the Natural U-Hoops Bamboo. It has the same material and quality, but it comes on a U-shape instead.
Collections Etc has a 6ft trellis that is very sturdy and has an elegant design. It’s made of iron with a green finish, and it stakes securely into the ground or pot.
Classic Home and Garden – Trellis Planter comes with the pot attached to the trellis, and it’s made of acacia, which is 1.5 times harder than oak.
Growsun has 6-pack tomato cages that include 120 clips, are made out of steel for lasting strength and are designed with ribbed sides to help keep the ties in place.
For small pots, we like LeeHoop Tomato Cage. They come with three adjustable rings, four self-watering spikes, and 20 plant clips.
How to tie the plant
As the plant grows, you can spread the branches out to the sides and tie them to the trellis.
Use 2-inch strips of nylon material or rag to secure the plant, as they do not cut through the soft stems of the tomato plant.
It is recommended to tie the branches when the plants are small to avoid damaging the roots once the plant has grown too big.
We recommend YDSL 328ft Twist Ties for its superior quality and great length.
Espalier tomatoes have always been in the Mediterranean garden. They can be grown in courtyards, patios, and even balconies. They require a minimal amount of space and are very easy to take care of.
So get everything you need ready, and set up your space in the garden, sit back, and enjoy the growing process.
You’ll be surprised every morning to find new tomatoes ready to be part of your salad.