As tomatoes grow heavy on the vine, they require support to stay off the ground. Staked or caged tomatoes are less prone to rot from contact with the soil and easier to harvest. In addition, plants take up less space and produce more fruit per square foot, and the crop ripens slightly earlier than those on vines allowed to sprawl. There are several methods available to support tomato vines; all are suitable for small or large gardens.
Drive a 6-foot long wood or metal post into the soil beside your newly planted tomato seedlings. Set the post 3 to 6 inches away from the base of the seedling.
Pound the post into the ground to a depth of 12 inches. The posts will need to support the tomato vines as they grow so they must be securely set. Do not wait to install the posts--hammering a stake into the spreading root system can cause damage to this vital plant component.
Gently secure the growing plants to the stake. Once your tomato plants have reached a height of approximately 18 to 24 inches, begin to attach supports. Wrap a piece of garden twine or a strip of soft cloth around the post and around a section of plant stem.
Allow at least 3 inches of space between the stake and the plant to allow for growth. If you are using garden twine, use a small piece of soft cloth where the twine contacts the stem. This will prevent the twine from digging into the soft flesh of the plant stem.
Check weekly to see if your plant has grown enough to require additional ties. As the season progresses, tomato fruits will become heavy and vines may need additional support near the heaviest-bearing branches.
Other Staking Methods
Use a standard tomato cage. Commercial tomato cages are available to support tomato plants. When purchasing, be sure the cage is large enough to enclose your chosen variety. Small, patio plants reach a height of only 36 inches, but a large, indeterminate tomato variety can reach 5 to 6 feet tall.
Place the cage around your tomato seedling at the time of planting. No tying is required; the plant is supported on all sides by the cage. Insert the cage to a depth of at least 6 inches for stability.
Make your own tomato cages. The University of Mississippi recommends that "a 5-foot length of 10-gauge reinforcing wire with 6-inch openings makes a cage of about an 18-inch diameter." This will support a large, indeterminate tomato plant.
About this Author
Moira Clune is a freelance writer who since 1991 has been writing sales and promotional materials for her own and other small businesses. In addition, she has published articles on eHow.com, GardenGuides.com and VetInfo.com.