Tomatoes (Lycopersicon esculentum) grown on stakes or other supports ripen faster, are easier to monitor for disease and pest problems, stay cleaner, produce more and are easier to pick at harvest time. Tomatoes adapt well to U.S. Department of Agriculture 3 through 9 hardiness zones and are categorized as either determinate or indeterminate growers. Determinate plants typically grow to 3 feet in height, and indeterminate tomatoes can grow to over 15 feet. Both types benefit from staking.
Stake Support System
Tomato stakes are made from bamboo, wood, metal, plastic or any other material that plants can be tied to. Stakes for an indeterminate tomato plant need to be 6 to 8 feet in height and placed 1 foot deep in the ground for good support. Stakes should be set up when the tomatoes are young to avoid root damage on more mature plants. Place the stakes 2 to 4 feet apart along a row of tomato plants. Tie the plant to the stake a couple inches above the leaf stems. Loop the tie loosely around the main stem under the leaf stem and secure it with a square knot. Some tomato varieties produce heavier and larger tomatoes, which need increased support. Stakes are easy to take up and store at the end of the growing season until needed next time.
Tomato cages have the advantage of providing support without the use of ties. Circular tomato cages are made of metal and have four long wire “legs.” The legs are pushed into the ground so the cage remains steady. Set tomato cages 4 feet apart. Such cages are 4 to 5 feet in height, which is not adequate for large-variety indeterminate tomatoes but good for determinate varieties. Place the cage in the ground at the same time the seedlings are planted. Use one cage for each seedling. The tomato cage wire structure supports the growing tomato plant with a little training. Remove the cages after harvest and store until next season.
A backyard chain-link fence can serve as a strong support system for both determinate and long-ranging indeterminate variety tomatoes. Place the tomato seedlings 18 to 24 inches apart along the fence. As the tomatoes grow, weave the branches in and out of the spaces provided by the chain link. Ties will not be needed. Pinch off suckers that grow in the juncture of branch to main stem when they are less than 4 inches long. Tomato plants pruned in this way produce fewer but larger fruit.
Simple String Trellis
String trellises are sometimes called Florida weave or cat’s cradle trellis because of the design the strings create. They are simple to make, requiring just two stakes and some weatherproof garden twine. Place the wooden, bamboo, metal or tree branch stakes 1 foot into the ground from 4 to 9 feet apart, depending on how many tomato plants you want to grow. Tie the garden twine at the base of one of the stakes and stretch it to the other stake, circling the twine around it several times. But weave the twine back and forth between the two stakes so there is twine on each side of the tomato plants. Add more twine weaves higher up on the stakes as the plants grow.