If you grow tomatoes in your home garden, chances are you’ll be staking them sooner or later.
Tomatoes need support. Why? Because most tomato varieties are likely to grow tall. Unlike cucumbers that climb on their own using tendrils, tomatoes can’t be left to their own devices. This is true for determinate plants as well as indeterminate types.
And although it can be a hassle, with a little bit of work tomato supports bring multiple benefits.
For one, it provides stability for your tomato crops. But the list goes on. Staking tomatoes:
- Keeps your crops off the ground, promotes good air circulation and thereby healthy tomatoes. It also prevents fruit rotting.
- Maximizes the growing space in your garden.
- Makes harvesting easy, giving you easy access to the fruit.
Now you know how much headache this can spare you, it’s time to learn how to stake tomato plants.
DIY tomato stakes are plain easy to make. So, hop on, it’s time to give your tomatoes the TLC they deserve.
Tomato Stakes vs. Tomato Cages vs. Trellises: What’s Best to Use?
Before we get down to the actual steps of building a simple stake, let’s glance at different support methods.
So, what’s best to do? Staking, trellising or caging tomatoes?
These can be confusing, so here are the pros and cons.
This is one of the best ways to provide a support structure for your tomatoes. So, how do tomato stakes work?
It’s as simple as forcing a stake into the ground and tying the plant to the stake.
This method is super-simple from the get-go although it requires more work down the road. As the tomato plant matures, you need to tie it up the stake leaving a single main stem by pruning the suckers.
- A staked plant will give larger fruit that ripens faster.
- You can plant many tomatoes in a row.
- It’s ideal for tight spaces as you can easily fit them in pots and containers.
- You need to monitor and tie the plants as they grow.
- For best results you need to prune tomatoes by removing the tomato suckers regularly.
- Pruning reduces your harvest as the plant is left with fewer branches.
With trellising systems, you attach tomato plants to a tall structure made up of T-posts, stakes, and twine. You tie the sprawling vines as they mature to provide support for tall heavy branches.
Similar to staking, trellising also requires pruning.
- The fruit will ripen one to two weeks earlier because of sun exposure.
- It’s easy to harvest as you have free access from all sides.
- It provides strong tomato support.
- You can only use it for indeterminate tomato plants.
- Reduced amount of protective foliage can cause sunscald.
- It can take more time to set up, train, prune and tie the vines.
Making a cage for tomatoes might not be as simple as making a stake, but it’s manageable.
To build a homemade tomato cage you’ll need some concrete reinforcement wire mesh and some zip ties. That’s all there is to it. You can add a stake for extra support to the tomato cage so it’s held in place when the vines get heavy.
With a tomato cage, you won’t need to prune your vines heavily. You only need to reduce them to four or five main fruiting branches.
- The fruit won’t ripen as early, but you’ll get more fruit that’s also less prone to cracking and sunburn.
- You don’t need to tie a tomato plant and you only need to prune it moderately.
- The plants require some training, but it’s much less work. Direct the ends of the branches back into the cage and that’s all.
- It can be harder to harvest as tomato cages can make it hard to reach the fruit.
- Without an added stake, your tomato cage may tip over.
- Cages take up more space, so avoid them in small gardens.
How to Build a Strong Tomato Stake: A Step By Step Guide
Now you can make an educated decision and see if staking is a good choice for your garden or not. And if it is, start building one.
And trust us, this is the easier part.
To stake tomatoes well, make sure they’re sturdy enough so they don’t topple down when storms or winds hit.
Once you know which type of tomatoes you want to grow, match the stake size to it. You don’t want to let tomatoes outgrow them.
- Keep them 3 to 4 feet high if you’re growing shorter, determinate tomato plant varieties.
- For higher, indeterminate varieties, you’ll need stakes 5 to 6 feet high.
- The same goes for heirloom tomatoes that can reach 8 to 10 feet tall.
Check the seed packet to make sure you hit the right variety.
Now, let’s see how you can set up the structure and provide great support for your tomatoes.
To stake tomatoes properly, use wooden stakes or metal stakes and drive them deep into the ground so they are stable. Use garden canes, bamboo poles or rebar as a more inexpensive alternative.
It’s best to install the stakes straight after planting seedlings. Doing otherwise might disturb the roots.
Place each stake 3 to 4 inches from the base of the plant, opposite the first bloom cluster at the bottom. This is the best way to avoid trapping the fruit between the stake and the tomato stems.
Use garden twine, nursery tape or small strips of fabric to tie the tomato vines to stakes as they grow.
Try tying it not too loose nor too tight. The plant must stay in place, but if you tie it too close, you can damage it.
Looping the tie close to the fruit cluster can cause the stems to tip over and break when the fruit matures. So, be careful.
Continue to monitor your tomato plants. Keep tying them to the stakes every 18-24 inches until they grow mature.
Provide the Right Support for Your Tomatoes
Supporting tomatoes is definitely a good idea.
What you’ll use to support your tomatoes – cages, stakes or trellises – is up to you.
The ideas above will set you up for success in growing tomatoes in your garden. The different ways to stake tomatoes give you room to improvise with plant varieties. In turn, this gives you the freedom to aim for different yields and work inputs.
If the traditional staking method suits you down to the ground, all you need to do is complete the steps above.
Want more useful gardening tips? Visit the Gardening Channel blog and learn more.