How to Grow Espalier Tomatoes and Climbing Tomato Plants

There are several reasons why growing espalier tomatoes in courtyards or on patios is desirable. Primarily, it’s because they take up very little space in a small garden.  Another benefit of growing your tomatoes climbing up walls and trellises is that by spreading the branches out, the fruit receives maximum sunlight. The warmth from the wall also speeds up the ripening time of the fruit.

The espalier system also makes tending the tomato plant easier as all the branches are accessible. So, control of pests and diseases is much easier. As the branches are spread out and the leaves get a better chance to dry, there is less chance of blight and other diseases taking hold of the plant.

espalier tomatoes

What Are Espalier Tomatoes and Climbing Tomato Plants

The definition of an espaliered plant is one that is trained to grow flat against a wall. This horticultural practice is more common with fruit trees and ornamental bushes. However, you can use the same techniques for annual plants, such as climbing tomatoes.

Espalier tomato plants will quickly grow up any trellis if properly trained. Any unoccupied wall in your garden makes an excellent place to train tomatoes. Cherry and grape tomatoes are particularly good candidates for this method.

Climbing tomato plants, also referred to as “indeterminate tomatoes,” are the most common variety grown in home gardens. Indeterminate tomatoes continue to climb (or sprawl if not supported) and produce fruit until you cut back or the first frost. Cordoning, or growing them up a rope or string, is the most popular method for growing this type of tomato plant. 

However, espaliering your tomatoes provides a number of additional benefits.

tomatoes climbing

Benefits of Growing Espalier & Climbing Tomatoes

Many new gardeners may think espaliered plants are simply for aesthetics. And there’s no doubt that an intricately trained fruit tree is simply stunning in a walled garden. 

However, there are several excellent reasons for learning this technique for your summer vegetable garden


Learning how to espalier tomatoes will open up more room in your garden for additional vegetable plants.

Easy to maintain

Tomatoes can become labor intensive if you want a good harvest. An espalier tomato trellis is easier to reach for the necessary pruning of suckers.

SEE ALSO:   Growing Brussels Sprouts

Aesthetic appeal

The University of Missouri refers to espalier as an art form, but you’re not limited to ornamentals and fruit trees. A wall of bright red tomatoes is just as attractive as a wall of bright red roses.

Disease prevention

Many tomato plants fail to thrive after summer storms. Excess rain spreads disease through the splashback of soil onto vulnerable foliage. Raising your climbing tomato plants above the ground reduces the risk of disease and helps foliage remain clean and dry. 

Increased yield

The reduction of disease, the increased ventilation through the foliage, and the improved exposure to sunlight can mean an increased yield. Especially when the life of your tomato plants is extended through good health.

How to Plant Espalier Tomatoes Step by Step

Growing espalier tomato plants is easy if you plan ahead to locate them properly. 

Step 1: Choose the Right Location

The best location for any tomato plant is in the sun. Look for a location that offers 6 to 8 hours of sun exposure daily. 

If you live in a cooler climate, even longer sun exposure is optimal. However, in hot climate zones, even sun-loving tomatoes will benefit from some shade during the hottest hours of the day.

Choose a location near a wall unless you’re willing to install a freestanding trellis. These may require some experience in setting fence posts. If you’re new at installing fences and trellises, a location near a wall may provide the best support.

Step 2: Prepare the Soil

Tomatoes require rich soil with good water retention and plenty of organic material. Loosen the soil with a garden fork to provide the roots with adequate aeration. You can dig in soil amendments if your soil is very poor. Compost or composted manure is an excellent soil conditioner.

Step 3: Install Supports

Install your trellis or other supports before planting your tomatoes. This will allow you to work freely without worrying about damaging your seedlings.

Many climbing tomato plant varieties will grow 8 to 10 feet tall, even more, so be sure to choose a trellis or wall that will accommodate their fast and furious growth.

Consider a wire grid trellis for your espalier tomato plants. Many espaliered perennials are trained onto frames permanently installed on walls with heavy-duty wires and concrete-grade hooks. 

Since tomatoes only live one season, it’s best not to make major commitments for the trellising.

Step 4: Plant the Tomatoes

Use starter climbing tomato plants that you have grown from seed or purchased from a local nursery. Once they are 10 to 12 inches tall, they’ll be ready to add to your garden.

Dig a hole slightly larger than the circumference of your pot and twice as deep. Tomatoes grow best when planted deep. 

Plant your tomatoes with a few of the lower nodes below the soil level. They will grow roots from the stems, which will help them absorb more nutrition and provide a more stable root system.

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Alternatively, you can grow your tomatoes in large containers or grow bags (5 gallon) below the trellis. This allows you to provide better-quality soil for increased yields. However, tomatoes grown in containers often need daily watering.

Step 5: Water and Fertilize

Once your tomatoes have been planted, water them in thoroughly. Keep the soil moist for the first week or two while the roots become established. 

Afterward, tomatoes often require 2 to 3 inches per week in the hottest weather. Observe how your tomatoes react and water accordingly. 

Tomatoes should be fed with a balanced fertilizer once planted. Afterward, feed them every two weeks until they begin to flower. 

Once your tomatoes flower, fertilizer weekly with a formula designed for tomatoes and other fruiting vegetables.

Step 6: Prune and Train

Once your plant reaches the trellis, you should begin training it by carefully and gently attaching it with soft ties or loose clips.

Your tomato plant may produce two, three, or even four “leader” stems. For cordon tomatoes, you only want one or two stems. For espalier tomatoes, you can train up to three or four without losing much production. 

Prune back all but three or four of the stems and attach them in a spread-out pattern along the trellis. Check your plants once or twice a week and tie in new growth. Make sure to check them after it rains, when they seem to explode with new greenery. 

Step 7: Harvest

As your espaliered tomatoes begin to produce fruit, make sure to prune back excess foliage along the bottom. This helps to prevent diseases by removing damaged and spent foliage. 

This also improves fruit ripening by providing more exposure to sunlight.

It’s also critical to remove suckers. These are excess sprouting branches that appear between the main stem and true branches. They grow at an angle from where the two meet, and they will severely reduce your tomato production. 

Cut them with a sharp, sterilized knife or pair of scissors.

espalier tomato plants climbing tomato plants

How to String up Your Climbing Tomatoes

Another way to manage climbing tomato plants is to string them up along a rope. This usually works best on tomato plants with only one main stem.

You’ll attach heavy-duty twine above the plant on an arbor or other tall support.

Then, tie the bottom of the string to the stem of the tomato plant at the bottom. 

There should be some give but the line should be tight enough to support a heavy tomato plant laden with fruit.

As the plant grows, wind the main stem around the twine. Prune the tomato plant back as needed once or twice a week during the growing season. 

SEE ALSO:   Growing Spinach Plant

Tips on How to Grow Espalier Tomatoes

There are two main tricks when it comes to growing espalier tomatoes:

Right plant

You’ll want to choose climbing tomato varieties rather than bush tomato plants. 

Luckily, that’s a pretty easy thing to do. Look for indeterminate varieties. These are tomato plants that continue to grow and produce fruit throughout the season until cold weather puts a halt to their climb.

Determinate tomatoes, however, only grow about 3-4 feet tall and produce most of their fruit within the same 3-4 month period. These are great for those who don’t have tall supports, since they only require a tomato cage.  

Some popular climbing tomato varieties include:

Right time

This refers to knowing when to tie up your tomatoes. Tomatoes grow quickly, so timing is crucial if you want to ensure they don’t get out of control. 

Once your tomatoes are planted and stand about 8 to 10 inches tall, it’s time to start tying them up. You want to be sure they never touch the ground. 

Check for new growth that is pulling away from the trellis. 

Use soft thread or twine to pin new growth up into the pattern desired. Tomato clips also work beautifully and are easy to remove and reuse at the end of the growing season.

Using a pair of sharp, sterilized snips or a knife, remove any suckers that are growing above the branches.

Then, remove any spent leaves or damaged foliage. Remove this debris from the garden and discard or burn.

You’ll need to repeat this process at least twice a week, perhaps even daily, to keep your tomatoes looking good.

This video from the Self-Sufficient Me YouTube channel provides an excellent and quick tutorial for how to espalier tomatoes that have already started to grow.


Growing tomatoes in your home garden is so very satisfying. And that’s why it’s considered the most popular vegetable for beginner gardeners. Homegrown tomatoes deliver a flavor, texture, and freshness that can’t be matched by store-bought specimens.

But growing tomatoes can be challenging. Tomatoes can be finicky and pick up diseases easily during summer storms. Pests find them delicious, spreading wilt and damaging stems. Using an espalier tomato trellis reduces much of the work involved. You’ll get better access to your plants with less strain on your back. Insects and caterpillars will be easy to find and remove, and your espalier tomato plants will enjoy the great ventilation they receive on a trellis. 

Editor’s Note: This post was originally published in April 2015 and has been completely updated.

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