How to stake tomatoes

There – I’ve done it, I’ve written a blog post title designed to provoke, to create controversy.

I recently trained a group of people on Communication & Social Media and one subject that we returned to reasonably frequently was dealing with ‘trolling’, ‘flaming’ and even the occasional bit of negativity in the comments section.  Well, I am pleased to say that in over 3 years of blogging I’ve never really experienced any of these things, perhaps until now???  If there was ever a subject to incite comment though it is this.

Now clearly I am joking but to a great many gardeners staking tomatoes correctly is a serious business, indeed an art, and there are a range of techniques that people swear by.  This is mine.

I use 3 upright stakes evenly spaced around the plant about 20cm away from its trunk.  I put the stakes in either; when planting or as soon as possible afterward so as not to damage the roots.

DSC_0037 (848x1280)I tie the branches of the plants to the closest stake as they grow.  Personally I favour ripped pantyhose (or occasionally cut up t-shirts) as my tying medium of choice but any fabric, or relatively soft twine, will do provided it has a little bit – but not too much – of give to allow the plant to grow.

DSC_0041 (848x1280)

I never prune my tomatoes (again with the controversy), as I tend to be persuaded by the argument that pruning results in both less fruit and gives openings for disease to enter the plant.  Hence the need for 3 stakes – unpruned tomato plants get pretty big.

I buy stakes as long (tall) as I possibly can.  For me the limiting factor is what I can transport home.  In general, the longer the better, but bear in mind you need to be able to reach the top to hammer them in.  I stand on a chair, as I can rarely be bothered getting out the ladder, but there are probably better, and safer, things to stand on if you need vertical assistance.  The other consideration in decided on stake length is what you are growing.  Some tomato varieties grow a lot taller than others, for instance Tommy Toe and Tigerella easily outgrow even the tallest stakes but Rouge de Marmande can cope with slightly shorter supports.

And that’s about it.  That’s how I stake tomatoes. I find the 3 stake technique works best for me, better than attempting to cage them (this may be a result of particularly pathetic attempts to cage them – a lot of commercial tomato cages are too short for the varieties I grow and my DIY skills are ordinary to say the least), and better than using a sole stake and pruning.  How about you?

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14 Responses to How to stake tomatoes

  1. mairi neil says:

    Great post Liz – don’t think it is controversial enough to attract vampires:)

  2. Depends where the tomatoes are growing. Some of ours grow in grow bags on a solid greenhouse floor and so the canes need a means of support, Really I think the right way is the way that works for you!

  3. Andy says:

    This is outrageous. 3 stakes? I’m appalled…
    Nah just kidding. Great post!
    I use bamboo stakes but only because they are lighter and easier to push into the ground without hammering. You can get quite tall ones too.

    • Liz says:

      I’ve seen the bamboo ones but have been concerned about the weight of the plant on them – do you find them strong enough?

  4. Mark Willis says:

    Well, yes, I can see that this is going to evoke some differences of opinion. However, I find that in general gardeners are an easy-going crowd. They all have their own preferences, but they tolerate others’. Actually, I think that sometimes they LIKE others to do things “wrong”, so that they can say “Ah, I told you so!” You know how I grow tomatoes: in containers – hence your 3-stake method would not work so well. I prefer a single stake, supported by a metal cane-support device, and I do prune my plants (if by this you mean pinching out the side-shoots). This method works well for me, hence it MUST be the correct way! 🙂

    • Liz says:

      He, he, he, excellent – a dogmatic approach to gardening. I do think you’re right about the ‘Ah, I told you so’ thing. I have a number of neighbours who let me know their feelings on my approach quite frequently and the word SEE comes up quite frequently….
      I do mean pinching out the side shoots when I say pruning. Intrigued by the idea of a ‘metal cane – support device’.

  5. ian says:

    Thanks for this info.Just wondering how you cope with possums?I’m growing cherry tomatoes in a very tall pot this year in the hope they won’t be able to reach.Wishful thinking,I know.

    happy growing!


    • Liz says:

      I am fortunate in not having many possums in the garden so I don’t really have issues with them. Rats on the other had I do have issues with but have yet to find an appropriate way to deal with them. Amused by the possibility of growing a tomato sooooo tall a possum couldn’t reach it….

  6. I tend to put the stakes in too late and the tomatoes fall over. (although this year I may be OK).
    Then of course the Blackbirds eat a little bit of each tomato so I cage the entire plant which makes it even harder to harvest.
    But I love eating my tomatoes 🙂

    • Liz says:

      I do wonder about harvesting tomatoes grown in cages, I tend to grow varieties that ripen individually and have wondered if this would be problematic if I grew them in cages. Blackbirds are a pain though aren’t they.

  7. Danielle says:

    I remember you using ‘tomato rings’ a few years ago… did they not stand up to the test of time? I purchased a few after reading your post about them but they haven’t been used extensively. I was considering purchasing some more for my tomato crop this year (didn’t garden much last year) but perhaps I should stick with stakes instead?

    • Liz says:

      Sadly the rings broke at the plastic end due to some rough handling by my 5 year old son, something about Pokémon and zombies….. I found them OK when I used them but not necessarily easier than tying the plants onto stakes. the biggest issue I had with them was getting the branches to grow inside the ring and moving the ring up without damaging the branches.

      • Danielle says:

        Haha, well at least he had fun! Hmmm… I may hold off purchasing more for the time being then and see how I go with the few I have. I do feel the plastic gets a little brittle in the sun and the head of the screw on one of mine has broken off already.

  8. I’ll try my best to not resort to flaming! 😉 I have to say there must be as many ideas on how to support tomatoes as there are gardeners. I am basically too lazy to stake, so I build cages out of concrete reinforcing wire. And I agree that most of the commercial tomato cages I have seen are not big enough to do the job well.

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