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Gardening Articles: Edibles :: Vegetables

Trellising and Training Tomatoes

by Shepherd Ogden

In my travels to gardens and farms around the world, I've seen a variety of inventive ways to trellis tomato plants. Some of the trellises are particularly attractive, others are surprisingly strong, and still others are rather elaborate.

Choose a system suited to the number of plants you're growing, their type, and the prevailing winds in your area. Trellises suitable only for small, determinate-type plants are noted. Otherwise, assume the trellis is for indeterminates.

Here are the ten basic ways you can train tomato plants.

Compost Cages

An ingenious American trellising method. Make a 4-foot-diameter cage (minimum) from fencing or concrete reinforcing wire. Build a compost pile inside it. The following season, plant tomatoes around the perimeter and train them to grow up the outside. Rain falling on the compost will feed the plants.
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Low-maintenance
  • Good for determinate varieties
  • Requires planning a season ahead

Single Stake

The most common method in the United States. Pound a solid stake a foot or two into the ground, and tie a single vine to it as it grows. Six-foot 1- x 1-inch stakes are usually set 2 to 3 feet apart, 2 feet deep, in rows 3 to 4 feet apart.
  • Simple to construct and maintain; inexpensive
  • Not wind-resistant
  • Heavy pruning usually needed to keep plants attached to stakes

Bar-and-Twine Trellis

A home-scale variation of a widely used European trellis. Sink 8-foot-tall 2 x 2 rot-resistant posts 18 inches in the ground, 5 feet apart, and join them at the top with electrical conduit flattened and drilled at the ends. Tie strings to the base of each plant with a nonslip knot, then loop over the top bar. Braid stems with the strings as the plants grow.
  • Uses space efficiently
  • Relatively inexpensive
  • Provides good air circulation
  • Wind-resistant if parallel to prevailing winds

Dutch Spiral

This system is a high-tech single-stake method. Set the metal post 1 foot into the ground; as the pruned, single-stem tomato plant grows, it intertwines itself with the stake.
  • Simple to set up and maintain
  • Not wind-resistant
  • Relatively expensive

Tall Cage of Concrete Reinforcing Wire

Almost as popular among American gardeners as the single-stake method, these cages are taller, sturdier versions of the basic tomato cage. Make one from 4-foot-wide concrete reinforcing wire, available at most building-supply stores. Set a stake just inside the cage and fasten the wire to it.
  • Good for determinate varieties
  • Not wind-resistant

Long Row

For this English-style trellis, set 8-foot-tall 4 x 4s 2 feet into the ground at the ends of a 20- to 50-foot row. Run a 9-gauge wire from anchors beyond each end over the top and tighten with a turnbuckle. Run twine from the plant base to the wire or tie bamboo stakes to the wire every 2 feet, and tie the stems to grow up the twine or stakes.
  • Provides good air circulation
  • Efficient for large-scale growers
  • Wind-resistant if parallel to prevailing winds
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