Tomato Trellising – Deciding Which Method is Right for You

In the Garden · Spring Garden · Summer Garden · The Beginner's Garden Podcast · Tomatoes · Vegetables · Vegetables

The Internet is full of tomato trellis ideas. Have you noticed? But how do you sift through the endless ideas? Do you even need to stake tomatoes? If so, what will work best for your garden?

And, let’s not forget something you probably have run into — cost. Some methods look amazing, but you could buy bushels of tomatoes at the farmer’s market for what some of these trellis ideas would cost!

Even though I had all the ideas and resources at my disposal, I still didn’t figure it all out, and it took learning by experience and making mistakes to start to make progress in this area.

So, in this podcast episode and blog post, I’m talking to you — the beginning gardener — in hopes of helping you skip the mistakes I made. Not only do I discuss four types of tomato trellising methods, but I also help you decide which one (or ones) will work best for your garden and your needs.

Because there’s no one-size-fits all approach.

Click below to listen to the podcast, and scroll down to read the blog post and show notes.

Before You Consider Staking Methods, Here’s What You Must Know

There are two main types of tomato plants — determinate and indeterminate — each one will require a different approach to staking.

I discuss these types in detail in “How to Grow a Salsa Garden,” but for staking purposes here’s what you need to know:

  • Determinate tomatoes only grow to a set height — usually about 3-4 feet. They need staking but they don’t have the intensive staking needs that others do.
  • Indeterminate tomatoes have a vining habit and require more intensive staking measures for the best results

4 Tomato Trellis Ideas for the Beginner -- Find the Best Fit For Your Garden

4 Types of Tomato Trellises

Round Tomato Cages

The inexpensive round tomato cages get a bad rap in the gardening world, in my opinion. Of course, I understand why. They’re too flimsy to handle most tomato varieties. They definitely can’t handle the vining nature and heavy tomato yields of indeterminate tomatoes without buckling under the weight, and I have found a heavy cropping of determinate tomatoes like Romas tests their limits as well.

But, they are ideal, in my opinion, for cherry tomatoes. Those plants still sprawl out, but the cages can handle the weight.

Round tomato cages are right for you if:

  • you are growing cherry tomatoes

Florida Weave

mulch tomato plants to prevent early blight

In the Florida weave method, you use tomato stakes (or other posts) and twine to form a figure 8 pattern between the stakes and the tomato stem. Below is a demonstration of how I use the Florida Weave with my tomatoes:

Here is another demonstration from MIGardener of how he uses the Florida Weave Method to stake several tomatoes using just two T-posts.

Pros of the Florida Weave Method:

  • It’s the most economical option.
  • Once you get the hang of it, it’s pretty easy.
  • It’s sturdy.
  • You can harvest easily because you don’t have to fight through a structure to grab the fruit.
  • It’s perfect for determinate tomatoes, like Romas, that grow to a specific height because you don’t have to worry about the plants outgrowing the stakes.

Con of the Florida Weave Method:

Indeterminate varieties will outgrow them, unless you buy tall stakes. I made this mistake when I used this method my first season of growing Amish Paste tomatoes. It worked great until the vines outgrew the 4′ stakes and then they sprawled everywhere with no support.

The Florida weave is right for you if:

  • You’re looking for an economical option
  • You grow Determinate Tomatoes
  • You grow Indeterminate tomatoes and you purchase stakes 8′ high.

Single Stem Trellis Method

This is a method I tried for the first time last year. In the single stem trellis method, you decide to pinch off ALL the suckers the tomato plant produces and you train the main stem up a stake of some sort.

If you’re unfamiliar with suckers, they’re the stem that grows at a 45 degree angle between the main stem and a side stem. Suckers become pretty much like their own tomato plant themselves if left to grow, producing stems and more suckers, so you can imagine how a tomato plant can grow out of control if left alone.

In a single stem trellis method, you prune off all the suckers, and you even trim the side stems beyond the cluster of flowers (which will become fruit). The goal is to limit foliage and growth to what the one main stem produces. You may wonder why you would want to do this, and there are several reasons that I’ve found.

  • You want large tomatoes. Let’s say you’re wanting huge, slicing tomatoes. A plant with fewer flowers will put its energy in the fruit it’s already developing, producing larger fruit.
  • You struggle with disease like blight. If you’ve ever had the bottom leaves of your tomato plants turn yellow, most likely, you’ve fought early blight. By limiting the foliage on the plant, you limit the transfer of these fungal spores from the ground to the leaves. It also increases airflow, which is another disease deterrent.
  • You want to plant lots of tomato plants. With a single stem method, you can plant your tomatoes closer together. This will probably be a benefit for those of you who start your seeds indoors and you had a higher germination rate than you expected. And if you can’t imagine disposing of those plants, you can fit more into your garden with this method.

If you decide to do a single stem trellis method, you have several options. You can simply buy a tall, 8-foot stake and train the main stem up it, tying the plant to the stake as it grows.

Or you can put together a set-up like I did last year, where I placed T-posts about 6 feet apart, connected them at the top with PVC couplers, and ran rebar horizontally at the top. Then, I tied string at to the rebar and anchored the string to ground next to the tomato plant. As the plant grew, I attached the main stem to the string using tomato clips.

The Single Stem method is right for you, if:

  • You have time and focus to trim your tomatoes, pruning out the suckers
  • You want to maximize your garden space (maybe a raised bed) but growing these up while planting other crops at the base, like onions, carrots, lettuce, or another low-growing crop.
  • You have started your seeds indoors and you have extra seedlings. 

Sturdy Cage

DIY Tomato Cage

This is one I’m going to try this year, in addition to the Single Stem, and compare the results. A sturdy cage is one you see at the garden center that has a heavier duty metal, and most of them I see are build in a grid-pattern. You can also make your own using cattle panel or wire mesh (leftover from when we poured a concrete patio) like in the photo above.

Pros of a sturdy cage:

  • This type of cage can support the weight of determinate and indeterminate tomatoes, and depending on how tall the cage is, they should support your indeterminate tomatoes’ height as well.
  • You may still want to prune your tomato plants a bit, but it’s not as necessary as with the single stem method, and your yields per plant may be larger, though you would have to adhere to regular spacing methods with all the foliage produced
  • These cages can last for years. While the wooden stakes in my Florida Weave method may last me 2 years max, these, especially the ones made from cattle panel, could last decades from what I hear. So it’s a good investment.

Con of the sturdy cage:

  • The investment. This is not cheap out of the gate, and if you’re gardening on a budget, this may not even be an option. But if you have a small garden with just a couple of tomato plants — or if you have some sturdy wire lying around — this may be exactly what you want. 

A sturdy tomato cage may be right for you if:

  • you have a small garden
  • you have access to cattle panel or other material where you can build the cage
  • you want something attractive that you can invest in, that will work for you for years

I hope this overview of 4 tomato trellis ideas gave you some ideas on how to stake your tomatoes this season. Just a reminder, I’m listing all of these in the show notes, along with helpful links and photos. I’d love to hear from you — do you plan to try any of these for the first time this season? Or have you used a method that you stick with year after year?

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5 Comments

  1. I think I’m going to use the Florida weave for my Roma’s, I think this is the method my grandma used.

    1. I am using livestock panel anchored with t-posts. You can see what it looked like about a month ago at minute 6:10 on this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2fnMp8G8faI&t=21s
      Now (in July) the tomato plants are a couple of feet above the top of this livestock panel. It has worked really well. I’ve continued to tie up the stems to the panel with twine as they have grown.

  2. Hi Jill, I’ve used the cage for many years, (20+) mine are about 2.5-3 ft dia. Yes they’re sturdy, but plants can still out grow. Need to be anchored, I’ve had the whole cage, with plants and tomatoes blow over (and these had the bottom row cut and bent into stakes).
    The down side is, you still need to tie or weave the plant onto the cage, and to do so requires reaching inside it, as does pruning and weeding and fruit picking.
    After all these years, I was thinking of unwrapping them and using your single stem trellis concept. Basically the livestock panel concept, I’d do that but have no way to transport such a big thing.
    I’ve done the trellis too using string to tie/wrap/weave to the plants, much more time consuming, it gets away from you quickly, heavy stems tend to break at tie wrap points.

    1. Yes, I’ve found all of that to be true as well! I still use my cages, but after using the livestock panel with my straw bales last year, I’m a fan of that as well.

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