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How To Stake Tomatoes

Should you stake, cage or trellis the vines?


Summer is here and your tomato vines are starting to grow! It's time to support the vines. This will lead to healthier vines, earlier yields, higher marketable yields and higher quality fruit. 
Here are popular options for supporting vines, each with its advantages and disadvantages: 

Sprawling. You can let your vines sprawl over the ground. It’s the cheapest way to go. Sprawled plants will shade the soil, conserve moisture, and reduce the incidence of blossom end rot. The big shortcoming of sprawled vines is they come into direct contact with soil diseases. This leads to rotten fruits and infected vines. Using mulch can reduce this shortcoming.

Staking. The traditional stake maximizes sunlight to the plant and leads to earlier yields. Bamboo poles or 1-inch-square (or wider) stakes are used, spacing plants about 24 inches apart. Stakes are placed about 3 inches from the plants. Sisal twine or strips of cloth are used to secure the vines to the stakes.

Tomato-stake
Staked tomato vine.

Caging. Caging tomatoes will lead to high yields of quality fruits. Get the strongest cages you can find. Better yet, make your own cages using 6-inch-mesh concrete reinforcing wire. Cut off 6.5 feet and bend it into a circle. This will make a cage 2 feet across and 5 feet high. Remove the bottom horizontal ring and poke the loose wires into the soil. Cages may be cut in half for determinate varieties, which grow shorter.

Tomato-cage
Caged tomato vine.

Trellising. Many large-scale growers use the string-weave system. Sturdy metal stakes are pounded at the ends of the row. Wooden or metal stakes are placed between every other plant.

Weather-resistant sisal or nylon twine is tied at the end stake. The twine is then strung down to the next stake in the row and looped around the stake, keeping the twine taut. Stringing continues to the next stake, looped around, and so on to the end of the row. Then it is looped around the end stake and run down the other side of the row. The first twine is placed about 12 inches off the ground and new rows of twine are placed every 8 inches up the stakes as the vines grow. Click on photo for a larger image. 

Tomato-string-weave
Tomato vines supported with string-weave trellis.

Written by , Extension Horticulturist, North Dakota State University. Photos courtesy of gregwDov Harrington and Dwight Sipler.  Sources of information: Cox, Bonnie. 2011. Training systems and pruning in organic tomato production. Oregon Tilth, Corvallis. As cited in eXtension.

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