It may be toe-may-to for some or tuh-mah-to for others, but when it comes to planting them, there's one language everyone speaks - staking. There are four main methods you can use to stake tomatoes: caging, staking, basket weaving, or installing agricultural panels. All serve the same purpose but work best in different situations. Learn more about each of these methods and see which work best for your home garden.
Support Tomatoes Using a Tomato Cage
Absolutely the easiest way to stake a tomato plant is by actually not staking them at all. Rather, tomato cages are spiral, metal contraptions that you place around your tomato plants to support the vines as they grow. Anyone can grow a few tomato plants using this method.
- Buy a tomato cage from your local hardware store (one per plant).
- Plant your tomatoes in the ground and push the cage legs into the ground with the plant sitting in the center.
- If you want to really make your plants secure, drive a stake or two into the edge of the cage, securing it by tying wire around where the cage and stake meet.
To start off with, you can leave your tomato plant sitting inside the cage. As the vines grow, you'll want to tie them to the edges of the cage using twine so that they receive the proper amount of support.
Tomato plants can outgrow cages, so if you don't want to add additional staking later on, you should only use this method for smaller tomato plants.
Support Tomatoes With Individual Stakes
Another easy method to support your new tomato plants is with individual stakes driven into the ground. This one requires basically the same amount of labor as the tomato cages do, and it also only works for individual tomato plants.
According to Penn State's College of Agricultural Sciences, you should use 6-7' tall stakes for indeterminate tomatoes and 4' tall stakes for determinate tomatoes.
To properly stake a tomato plant, follow these easy steps.
- Purchase wooden stakes (the same number as tomato plants you're planting).
- Using a mallet, drive your wooden stakes into the ground where you want to plant each individual tomato.
- Plant the tomato at the base of the wooden stake.
- Using twine or string, tie the tomato's main stem onto the stake.
- As your plant grows up the stake, continue tying to stem down.
Try the Basket Weave Staking Method
Also known as the Florida Weave method, you should only need to use a basket weave system if you're going to plant a lot of tomatoes. If you're just planting one or two, this method is going to be a lot more work for no better results than the easier staking and caging methods.
We are using the basket weave #tomato trellis system to keep our field #tomatoes elevated during the growing season, it helps prevent disease pressure. #BardwellFarm #season2019 #supportlocalfarms #eatfresh #buylocal #farmersofinstagram #ag #sustainable #agriculture #farmlife pic.twitter.com/DF3pcLs86a— Bardwell Farm (@bardwellfarm) June 13, 2019
To basket weave your tomato plants, follow these steps;
- Buy two metal T-posts, a few wooden stakes, and some twine. You should have a stake between every plant, so the numbers that you need vary.
- You'll plant your tomatoes beside each other (either vertically or horizontally), so drive each T-post into the ends of your plot.
- Measuring about four feet from the T-post, drive a wooden stake into the ground. Continue measuring and staking until you reach the other end.
- Plant your tomatoes.
- Taking your twine, wind the twine around the T-post, weaving in and out of each plant to the stake and back again, tying off when you reach the top. The idea is to cage the plant's stems and branches with the twine.
- As your plants grow, you'll need to add weaves every so often.
Make sure you don't over weave your plants. The last thing you want is to cage them in so tightly that you stunt the fruits from growing.
Install Agricultural Panels to Support Your Tomato Plants
Agricultural panels work in a similar fashion as basket weaving does in that they're used for supporting a high number of tomato plants in a single garden. These panels look like oversized chicken wire or cage fencing and support your tomatoes by holding them up as they grow.
To install agricultural panels for your tomato plants, follow these simple steps.
- Measure how wide your tomato row is going to be and purchase that width in agricultural panels and T-posts.
- Drive the T-posts into the ground and secure agricultural panels along the posts using zip ties or wire. It should look like a type of fenced barrier when you're done.
- Plant your tomatoes at the bottom of the panels, and wind the stems and branches in and out of the open squares.
- When you've finished, the plant stems should be fully standing up thanks to the panels.
- As your plants grow, continue weaving and tying as needed.
Why Should You Stake Your Tomato Plants?
Tomato plants are actually vines, and when you don't intervene in their growth by giving them a support system, you can expose them to diseases, bugs, and invasive wildlife. If you encourage their upward growth, they'll produce a bigger yield. Also, these supports help them weather the physical demands of an unpredictable environment. Harsh winds, rain, and frost can batter your plants, and staking helps give them a fighting chance.
Of course, you can still be at the mercy of some birds, but the deadly insects, microorganisms, and tomato fruit rot that can happen when they're sitting on the ground is mostly prevented by staking.
There's No 'Right' Way to Stake Your Tomatoes
The whole point of staking tomato plants is to get them off the ground and give them something to grow up. If you're partial to a cute trellis, you found in a thrift store, feel free to use that instead of a conventional cage or stake. As with most gardening practices, how you choose to stake tomatoes isn't as important as making sure you actually do it.