By Grant McCarty
Local Foods and Small Farms Educator, University of Illinois Extension
As discussed last week with tomato management, you need to trellis tomatoes as it benefits yield and plant health. Cages or stakes are the two most common supports given to a tomato plant. As a reminder on determining your trellis needs, these are dependent on the type of tomato and number of plants you are growing.
If I have one, small tomato plant, a tomato cage would be suitable. If I was growing many indeterminate or determinate tomato plants, staking will be the best.
Staking requires either metal or wooden stakes with one at the start of the row and the next one after every two plants. Some growers may place a stake after each tomato plant depending on what type of plant it is.
A benefit to the staking system is that it allows you to adjust the string level instead of depend on set spacing from a tomato cage. Metal stakes like t-posts provide considerable more support for tomatoes than wooden stakes can.
Some growers may also start their row with a metal stake and use wooden stakes the rest of the row. Whichever spacing and stakes that you decide on, you’ll need to use heavy duty string to support them.
The Florida Weave is a trellising method that Florida tomato growers use in their staking system. Using general spacing (one stake every two plants), the first string line will cross between the plants before the next stake, creating a figure eight once you’ve worked your way to the end of the line and then returned to the first stake to tie it.
Following this initial criss-cross string line, the next string lines will be the traditional trellis spaced every 6-8 inches. There are numerous online resources that explain the Florida Weave further with photos to show what this method looks like. Your first string line should be when your plant is about a 1ft in height and the string should be placed under the first stem.
As heavy fruit develops, you may be trellising much more. The stakes may also need to be hammered into the ground as fruit weighs down the plants.
With your trellis system in place, your tomato plants are ready to start flowering and fruiting.