7 Essential Tips for Staking Tomatoes to Get a Better Harvest

Here's how to stake tomato plants like a pro.

Staking tomatoes to support their fast growth requires time and effort but the results are totally worth it. Most tomato varieties ramble across the ground by nature, forming a 3- to 4-foot-wide heap of foliage. Harvesting is a treasure hunt through leafy growth as you search for any ripe fruit. Plus, a sprawling tomato plant takes up a lot of valuable garden space (especially frustrating in raised beds), and any foliage on the ground tends to attract more diseases. These tomato staking methods and tips will help you grow healthy plants in less space while also increasing and extending your tomato harvest.

tomato plants in a

Blaine Moats

1. Stake all types of tomato plants.

Staking boosts the health and productivity of all tomato varieties. Especially vigorous heirloom and cherry tomato types grow best on staking systems that are 5 to 7 feet tall while many beefsteak and paste types can be grown well on a 3- to 4-foot stake or cage.

The height of the staking system depends on the type of tomato. Tomato varieties are divided into two groups based on how they grow: determinate and indeterminate. Determinate tomato types grow to a certain height, usually 3 or 4 feet tall, then stop growing. They flower and fruit within a few weeks' time. A 3- to 4-foot-tall staking system works well for determinate varieties. Indeterminate tomato varieties continue to grow, flower, and set fruit until they are killed by frost in fall. A 5- to 7-foot-tall staking system is best for indeterminate types.

2. Stake at planting time.

Tomatoes grow fast. It’s easy to forget about staking newly planted tomatoes in the busy-ness of spring planting and weeding. In short order, they will put on 2 to 3 feet of new growth and staking will become far more challenging. Ensure your plants stand tall from the get-go by putting a support system in place at planting time. Gather staking supplies when you are at the garden center purchasing transplants and you’ll have everything you need to get started right away.

3. Use the single-stake method in a small garden.

A single stake is a simple, low-cost method for keeping plants upright in small spaces. Use a 5-foot-tall sturdy wood or metal stake for determinate tomatoes and an 8-foot-tall stake for indeterminate tomatoes. About 4 inches from the base of the plant, sink the stake 12 inches into the ground—depth is important to anchor the plant once it is heavy with fruit. As the plant grows, tie the main stem to the stake using strips of cloth (cut up an old t-shirt) or commercial tomato ties available at the garden center. Tie the tomato stem in a loose figure-8 with the stake in one loop and the stem in the other. Continue tying the main stem to the stake weekly as the plant grows.

4. Provide extra support for wire tomato cages.

Manufactured wire tomato cages are the most popular support system for tomatoes, but many cages are frustratingly flimsy. They function well, holding tomato stems and leaves upright, when plants are young, but they often buckle under the weight of developing fruit. Help wire tomato cages stand tall all season long with stakes. Sink two 5- to 7-foot-tall metal stakes deep into the ground alongside wire cages. Tie the cages to the stakes. Better yet, make your own tomato cages using concrete reinforcing wire or similar heavy-duty mesh.

bounty in a box garden planter
Carson Downing

5. Don’t forget tomatoes in containers.

Use a single wood or metal stake to provide support for a potted tomato plant. Push the stake about 12 inches into the potting soil at planting time and loosely tie the plant’s main stem to the stake using soft cloth every 12 inches or so. Be mindful of wind—the staked tomato plant can easily catch the wind and cause the entire pot to topple over in a big gust. Place the container in a protected location if windy conditions are a problem in your area.

6. Create a woven support for a row of tomatoes.

The basketweave tomato support method creates a hedge of tomato plants. Best for 6 or more tomato plants planted in a single row about 24 inches apart, the basketweave method involves "weaving" sturdy twine through the row of staked plants every week or two until the plants reach the top of the stakes.

To get started, pound an 8-foot stake 1 foot into the ground near the base of every other plant. Begin weaving twine between the stakes when plants are 12 inches tall, and tie the twine off at the end of the row. Continue weaving new layers of twine up the stakes as the plants grow.

7. Prune staked tomatoes regularly.

Pruning tomato plants is especially beneficial to plants trained to a single stake. Pruning involves pinching away side shoots or suckers that develop at the base of leaves extending from the main stem. These side shoots are simply extra vegetative growth—they will not produce fruit. Removing them reduces leaf mass, making it easier to support a tomato plant using a single stake. Removing side shoots also directs the plant’s energy into fruit production, which is a delicious reward for a small amount of pruning.

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