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The Best Way to Support Tomato Plants

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Tomatoes need support to stay healthy and remain easy to pick and manage. Here is my absolute FAVORITE way to support tomato plants!

Tomatoes grow fast when the weather is hot, and without adequate supports, you will likely end up with a sprawling mess of tomato plants. While they will still grow just fine without support, you will likely lose a lot of tomatoes to rot and critters – plus they are more difficult to pick, and may be more susceptible to disease. Therefore, it’s best to support tomato plants and try to keep them upright – especially if you don’t want them hogging all of your garden space.

There are many different ways to support tomato plants, from sturdy trellises made of fencing or cattle panels, to tomato cages (either purchased or homemade), or simple stakes. However, after trying a number of methods, I discovered what is now my absolute favorite way to support tomato plants…

I’ve heard this method called by a variety of different names, including twining, twine tying, string weaving, the basket weave, and the Florida Weave method. Whatever you call it, the method is the same, and it involves weaving twine around your tomato plants and strategically placed stakes.

Here is a quick description of the method from ModernFarmer.com:

For this technique, tomato transplants (at the seedling stage) are set about two feet apart in single rows in raised beds. Drive a stake (we’ll get into what kind of stake in a minute) into the ground at each end of the row and between each plant in the row. (If you drive the stakes deep enough, creating more stability, you may be able to get away with two plants between stakes. It really depends on your type of soil and how far you can drive down.)

When the transplants are roughly about a foot high, tie twine (again, we’ll get into types below) to the first stake at about 9 inches high and loop it around the second stake at the same height. You’ll know you’re at the right height if the twine keeps the tomato from flopping over on that side. Keep tension on the twine and continue looping it around the third and fourth stake in a similar manner until you get to the end. Make a double loop around the last stake for strength, and loop your way down the opposite side of the bed, keeping tension on the line all the way down. When you get back to the first stake, tie off, and cut the twine. You’ve created a long, skinny loop that holds the plants upright and off the ground.

Depending on how fast the plants grow and how heavy they get, you’ll need to run another line of twine about 6 to 8 inches higher every five to seven days to keep the plants from flopping over. Some plants may grow faster than others, so adjust the height of the twine as you go down the row to accommodate them…

(Sound confusing? See this video for a quick demonstration of the method.)

Yes, it does take some practice, and it may seem a little tricky at first, but once you get it down, it is remarkably quick and effective!  I can do an 8′ bed of 2 rows of tomato plants in about 10 minutes just once a week, as opposed to just using stakes or tying tomatoes to a trellis, which is an on-going and never-ending process – at least if you are growing indeterminate varieties.

Besides the time-saving factor, here are a few other reasons why I love the Florida Weave method:

    • It works incredibly well. My tomato plants are so much more manageable – both from a harvesting and a maneuverability standpoint. I can easily reach between the rows to weed, adjust irrigation lines, trim diseased leaves, and more – rather than trying to fight my way through the bushy plants.
    • Better air flow between the plants and rows means less risk of diseases like blight.
    • It’s easier to manage pests – such as the dreaded tomato hornworm. In fact, this is a completely unexpected benefit of this support method, but we have had almost ZERO hornworms since I started using the Florida Weave method! After a bit of detective work last summer, I discovered that birds have been eating the little worms before they get large enough to do much damage. Apparently, they like to perch on the tops of the stakes, and the uplifted branches make it easier for them to see and access the hornworms as they chow down on the plants.
    • It looks neat! 🙂 Gardeners must adapt to some level of messiness – that’s just how gardening goes. But for semi-neat freaks like me, this is the neatest and most well-contained tomato staking system I have found.

Here is what my tomato plants looked like about this time of year when I was just using stakes and trying to tie each plant individually:

Staking tomatoes

And here is a much neater tomato bed around the same time of year – using the Florida Weave method:

Florida Weave tomatoes
A few more notes from my experiences in using this method to support tomato plants:

– I use sisal twine; you can get plastic twine, but I don’t like to use plastic in the garden if I can help it. It doesn’t decompose, it can tangle around garden implements if you forget to pick it up in the fall or miss a piece, and it’s a waste of fossil fuels in my opinion.

– Use sturdy metal stakes – at least on the ends of the rows – more if you have a very long row. We learned this the hard way last year, when our ENTIRE bed of eating tomatoes blew flat over on the ground during a bad thunderstorm! I had used wooden stakes that my husband made me, and they all either broke off or pulled right out of the wet ground during a particularly bad wind gust. Since they were all tied together, however, it was surprisingly easy to pick them back up again. (Well, okay, not easy, exactly, but not as difficult as I had expected.) Working together, my husband and I lifted up the entire block of plants, and secured the wooden stakes at the ends of each row to metal t-stakes, driven firmly into the ground. We had no further problems for the rest of the year. Lesson learned! This year, I am using metal t-posts at the end of each row, and wooden stakes between the plants in the row. Hopefully these should hold much better this year.

– If you are growing indeterminate varieties, you should use stakes that are as tall as you can find, as your tomatoes will likely keep growing until frost. For determinate varieties, you can get away with stakes that are about 5′ above the ground (try to drive them in at least a foot). If you can’t find taller stakes, just be aware that the tops of your tomato plants will flop over a bit at the top once there is no more stake to tie them to. This happens with ours all the time, and it hasn’t really caused a problem, but just be aware of this.

– The video mentioned above shows using a piece of PVC pipe to make it easier to loop the twine around the plants and stakes. I have not tried this – I usually just hold the roll of twine in my hand – but if you have a lot of plants in very long rows, it may helpful.

– Many people use the method with multiple plants between the stakes. If you are planting a lot of tomatoes and don’t have a lot of stakes, you can do it this way – just make sure you do have very sturdy stakes driven well into the ground. Since we only grow a couple of beds of tomatoes and they are usually bushy indeterminates, I usually put one stake between each pair of tomato plants for more stability.

Have you used the Florida Weave method? Or do you have another favorite way to support your tomato plants? Comment below, or chime in on our Facebook page and share your thoughts!

 

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