Like most tomato enthusiasts I’m always looking for new places to set out tomato plants. Recently I pruned out some fronds from a Texas Sabal palm. At first I put them on the burn pile-they burn like a torch after they’re dry, but a day later I had an idea they might work to protect new tomato plants from the blustery winds on the wide open plains of South Central Texas. Initially I laid them down on the south side of the plants—just figured I’d get a few weeks of wind break protection. Unfortunately they compressed down, not affording much protection. So I decided stand them up. Using a machete I trimmed the petioles to a point about two feet down from the base of the frond. Next I used a sharp shooter shovel to cut an opening in the soil on the south side of the cage. Knowing this wouldn’t be enough to keep the fronds in place we tied twine around a center section of the frond (do this first with the frond laying flat on the ground and leave extra to tie to the cage/stake). This required tearing the center portion of the frond down to the top of the cage level (guesstimate or put the frond next to the cage and mark it. With my wonderful wife’s help we pushed the petiole into the soil. Then we used the extra cord from tying the center of the frond to tie it to the cage (make sure you tie to a vertical wire in the cage or the stake (we always add one when using light weight cages for extra support). If you tie to a horizontal wire the frond will rotate in the wind. The end result looks like a funky art project and I don’t know what your Home Owners Association might say about it, but since we live in the country we make our own rules. It’s actually rather ingenious (typed with one hand as I pat myself on the back).
Wind protection for new tomato plants has always been part of our tomato growing system. I actually prefer wrapping our tomato cages with fiber row cover but my covers are getting a bit worn. I’m still using them in the main garden—cut to length, wrapped around the cage (start on the windy side and it will blow into the cage) and secured with clothes pins. The row cover material usually comes off when the plants are about knee high but in a windy spring I’ve left them on until I’m picking tomatoes. You can water through the fiber and the cover may help to keep pests from getting to the plants. I look in daily to make sure the bugs aren’t inside and thriving, though. This technique also gives some protection from late season northern fronts or wind from any direction, for that matter.