In the Book of Genesis, the Lord says to the serpent, “On your belly you shall go.” Apparently, the tomato got the same message. Its natural habit in the wild is to creep along the warm ground, mopping up sunshine. Gardeners, of course, have other ideas for it. They surround their tomato plants with wire cages, train them vertically on strings or on fences, lash them to tall stakes or practice stake-and-weave. In that clever technique, stout stakes are placed at either end of a tomato row and between every two plants within the row. Then strong twine is woven behind each stake and in front of the tomatoes, along one side of the row and back the other. (More strands are added above as the plants grow taller.) Determinate tomatoes, which do not produce long, wandering stems the way indeterminate ones do, are often allowed to sprawl on the ground; but some growers like to get them up in the air for tidiness, cleanliness and spatial economy.
Such plant orthopedics are less often applied to the tomato’s close relatives, the pepper and the eggplant, because those crops’ natural inclination is to grow upright on robust stems. But they’re not always robust enough. A pepper plant might start out looking compact and bushy but wind up tall and floppy by summer’s end. Its fruits form on stems that emerge in the crotch of leaf branch and main stem, and as they grow and ripen they add weight to the whole structure, bringing it down like a little fallen tree. Eggplants, which form fruits at the ends of longer stems, can tumble, too, and branches can occasionally break off, especially with the large-fruited types.