Tomato plants can produce lots of fruit for you if they have the proper soil nutrients, water levels, and sun exposure – but they also do better with the proper support. Still, this raises the question of when to stake and tie up your plants.
So, when do you stake and tie up tomatoes? The best time to stake tomatoes is before you transplant them (or before you plant seeds if direct sowing). That way, you won’t damage the roots of an established plant by driving a stake into the ground near it. The best time to tie up tomatoes is every 6 to 12 inches of growth.
Of course, there are other ways to support tomatoes besides stakes (such as tomato cages or trellises). There is also a way to provide support later in the season (Florida Weave!) if you forgot to stake them before planting or transplanting.
In this article, we’ll talk about when to stake tomato plants & how to do it. We’ll also talk about when to tie up tomato plants and what you can use to do it.
Let’s get started.
When To Stake Tomatoes
The best time to stake tomato plants is before there are any plants at all! If you are going to transplant tomatoes into the garden, set up stakes before you move the plants.
If you are going to plant tomato seeds directly in the ground (only recommended for warmer climates!), then put the stakes in place right before or after you sow the seeds.
Either way, make sure that you space the stakes properly to give the plants enough room to grow. Tomato plants will do fine with 18 to 24 inches (45 to 60 centimeters) of space between them, especially if you tie them up to secure them to their stakes as they grow.
Setting up stakes for tomato plants before they are in place protects their roots. If you drive a stake into the ground too close to an established tomato plant, you can damage its root system and stunt its growth.
Setting up stakes early also allows you to plan ahead for your garden and figure out the spacing ahead of time. However, it is possible to set up your tomato stakes too early.
Doing things out of order can make gardening more difficult. Here are a couple of things you will want to do before setting up stakes:
- Thawed Ground – you will not be able to work hard soil that is still frozen, and cold soil is still very difficult to work. Wait until spring brings warmer weather to thaw out the soil before you try to drive stakes into the ground.
- Digging & Rototilling – stakes will get in the way when you are trying to work the soil with a shovel, pitchfork, or rototiller. Wait until after you are done working the soil to install your stakes.
- Garden Planning & Row Lines – before you can put in stakes, you need to know where the tomato rows will go (use crop rotation to reduce the chance of diseases like late blight!). Use two stakes (one at each end of the row) and a string between them to give you a straight line. That way, you can install your tomato stakes without making a crooked row.
Is It Too Late To Stake My Tomatoes?
Don’t worry – it is not too late to stake your tomatoes. You can still do it after your plants are already in the garden.
You just need to be a little bit careful about how you do it. That way, you can avoid damaging your plants (their roots will be well-established by the time they are a few feet tall).
2 Stakes & Twine Every Foot
One good system is to set up a sturdy stake at either end of your row of tomatoes. For a really long row, you might want to either:
- Use sturdy wooden posts instead of stakes (this will help to prevent the support system from falling down during the season as the plants get taller &heavier with branches & fruit).
- Use multiple stakes or posts in a row (this will decrease the weight that each stake in the system needs to hold up).
Next, tie a length of twine to one stake at about 1 foot high (you can find twine online at Ace Hardware). Then, tie the other end of the length of twine to the other stake at 1 foot high.
Repeat this process with a length of twine tied to each stake at 2, 3, 4, 5, and 6 feet tall on the stakes (or as tall as you can go).
As the tomatoes grow, weave them between the lengths of twine. It is helpful to gently move the branches (be careful not to snap them!) to help the tomato plants “hang on” to the twine.
The “Florida Weave” is a modified version of the system mentioned above.
Instead of just one length of twine at each height, there are two lengths of twine at each height. One length of twine runs along the right side of the row, and the other length of twine runs along the left side of the row.
With this method, the tomato plants are surrounded on two sides by twine. This will help to keep them contained within the row without restricting their growth too much.
When Should You Put A Tomato Cage On?
Ideally, you should put a tomato cage on right after the tomato is transplanted or after the seed is planted. The reason is that it is a little bit difficult to dig in the soil and plant with a cage in the way.
A tomato cage is a little more forgiving than a stake if you need to support tomatoes after they are planted and established. A cage has 3 or 4 “legs” that you can drive into the ground to secure them.
These legs are not as big as stakes, and they don’t need to be as close to the tomato plant as a stake. Rather, the legs are driven into the ground around the tomato plant (near it, but not right next to it).
As a result, there is less chance of damaging roots and stunting growth or killing the plant.
Keep in mind that a tomato cage is more often used for determinate tomato varieties (since they are shorter). On the other hand, a stake is often used for indeterminate tomato varieties (since they are taller).
Finally, remember that you also have the option to use a trellis to support tomato plants. However, a flimsy plastic trellis just won’t do.
The trellis needs to be sturdy enough to support a tall, heavy tomato vine and all of its glorious fruit!
If you want to use cages to support your tomato plants, you can find steel tomato cages (5 feet high) online from Ace Hardware.
When To Tie Up Tomatoes
The best way to know when to tie up tomatoes is to watch their growth! Growth will vary depending on the variety and also on environmental conditions, such as:
- Soil pH & Nutrients
It is a good idea to tie up tomatoes every 6 to 12 inches of growth. There are lots of things you can use to secure tomatoes to stakes, including:
- Clips (you have the option to use reusable plastic or one-use biodegradable clips.)
- Cloth Strips (you can recycle old clothing to make these!)
- Foam Ties (these are good if you have trouble tying, since you can twist rather than tie them.)
- Plant Tie Tape (this soft and stretchy material is less likely to damage plants than twine or plastic.)
- Polypropylene Cord (this cord is flexible and rot-proof, resisting decay even when wet.)
- Soft Wire Ties (similar to foam ties, but a little sturdier – you can twist them instead of tying.)
- Twine (a classic for tying up tomatoes, and you have the choice of hemp, sisal, or jute – you can buy twine in huge rolls online or at hardware & garden centers.)
- Twist Ties (these flexible metal wires are covered in plastic, but some might not be long enough for thick tomato stems.)
- Velcro Strips (Velcro strips avoid hurting your plants, since they are made of soft material.)
- Zip Ties (these are made of plastic, and it is easy to make them too tight.)
Continue tying up tomato plants throughout the season until they reach the top of their supports. After that, you can “top” them by pruning away the portion of the plant that grows above the support.
(If you need a pair of pruning shears, you can find a pair of Fiskars carbon steel pruning shears online from Ace Hardware).
If a tomato plant grows too tall without support, it will start to bend over and make its way to the ground (that is, unless the weight of the plant causes the support to fall over first!)
You can also prune away tomato suckers as the plant grows. For more information, check out my article on pruning tomato suckers.
Now you know when to stake and tie up tomatoes. You also know what to use for support and for tying, and how to make sure you don’t damage the plants when you stake them.
If tomato blight is a problem in your garden, you can learn more about blight-resistant tomato varieties in my article here.
I hope you found this article helpful. If so, please share it with someone who can use the information.