Using tomato stakes is one of the easiest and most commonly utilized types of tomato supports.
Once you learn how to stake tomatoes, you’ll find tomato staking to be fast and easy.
And tomato staking is a form of tomato support that works well for any size planting, from just a couple of plants to many.
In fact, many commercial tomato growers use tomato stakes to keep their plants off the ground and make them easy to harvest.
If tomato staking works well for a commercial grower managing thousands of plants, it will also work well for the few tomato plants in your backyard garden.
The basics of tomato staking are very simple: you just tie your plant to a good, strong stake.
One method is to have a tomato stake for each plant. You drive the stake at least a foot deep into the soil, located a few inches away from the stem of the plant. Tie the stem to the stake before the plant is tall enough to flop over.
As the plant grows, you’ll occasionally tie on a new support higher up the stem. At season’s end, you’ll have the plant tied to the stake in a number of locations along the length of the stem.
An alternate method of providing tomato support with stakes is called the Florida weave system. This is the system used by many commercial growers. If you’re growing a number of tomato plants in your garden, this might be the best system of staking to use.
To use the Florida weave, you’ll need your plants to be in a straight row. Drive a stake into the ground by each plant or every other plant, with a stake at each end of the row.
Tie a strong twine or cord to one of the end stakes no more than a foot above the ground. Now go down one side of the tomato row, making a loop around each stake. When you get to the end of the row, you’ll loop around the other end stake, and then come back up the other side of the row, again looping around each stake. Tie off at the starting end stake.
Tip: Use a strong cord or twine that won’t stretch. Nylon will stretch, for example, while polypropylene won’t.
When the plants have grown above the first run of twine by a fair amount – and before they start to lean much – you’ll add a second run. By the end of the season, you’ll have made probably 3, 4, 5 runs of support twine, depending upon conditions and the type of plants you’re growing.
The Florida weave is an easy and efficient method of supporting a large number of tomato plants, but also works well with just a few plants (as long as they’re grown in a straight row).
Here are a few general tips for successful tomato staking:
Use tall, strong stakes...
Stakes can be either metal or wood, just as long as they are tall and strong. How tall depends upon whether you’re growing indeterminate or determinate tomato varieties.
For determinates, plan on a minimum of 5 feet, for indeterminates, a minimum of 7 feet. Again, these are minimum lengths. It’s much better to end the season with a stake that was taller than necessary than one that was too short.
If you use wooden stakes, avoid using treated wood, and be cautious about wooden stakes that are cut thin (with a rectangular profile). These will likely tend to bow and bend before season’s end. Metal stakes are preferable for long-term usage.
Lengths of rebar (used to reinforce concrete) make great tomato stakes. You can buy rebar at any building supply store. I’d recommend using ½ inch diameter or greater for stakes.
T-posts also make great tomato stakes, though more expensive. You can also purchase purpose-made tomato stakes if you wish.
Plan on pruning...
You’ll need to prune your tomato plants so that you have a manageable number of stems for staking. Indeterminates will require more pruning than determinates.
Be careful where you tie...
You want leaf stems to be taking the stress of supporting the plant, not fruit cluster stems. If your twine is directly under a fruit cluster stem, and the plant sags a bit as it becomes heavier, the fruit cluster could end up being stripped right off the plant as it sags against the supporting twine.
Use a strong twine or cord...
A mature tomato plant with lots of ripening fruit clusters can be surprisingly heavy! Make sure that the twine or cord you use is up to the task.
But you also want to be sure not to damage the plant. So don’t use something like bare wire (plastic coated wire is OK).
Some backyard gardeners like to use strips of cloth or old nylon stockings to support their tomato plants. Commercial growers using the Florida weave system will often use polypropolyne twine because of its strength and durability, and because it doesn’t stretch.
Poly baling twine works great, but it’s usually only available in fairly large quantities.
Live in a windy area?
If so, you might as well place your stakes on the downwind side of your plant (according to the prevailing wind direction). That way, a heavy wind will tend to push the plant into the support of the stake, rather than away from it.