Yard and garden: staking out tomatoes

AMES, Iowa — Tomatoes are one of the most popular vegetables to grow at home. They come in a variety of sizes, shapes and colors and benefit from stakes and training to keep the sprawling plants off the ground. In this article, gardeners from the Iowa State University Extension and Outreach answer questions about ways for home gardeners to train and stake their tomatoes.

Why is tomato staking beneficial?

There are several benefits of staking and training tomato plants in the home garden. Tomato plants that are trained to grow above ground often produce better quality fruit than those that are allowed to spread on the ground. This is partly because leaf disease problems are generally less severe due to better air circulation. Training tomatoes also save valuable garden space for gardeners with small plots. Also, trained tomatoes are easier to grow and harvest.

Which Tomato Variety Should Be Trained or Staked?

Tomatoes can be divided into two main groups based on how they grow: determinate and indeterminate. Certain tomatoes are smaller, more compact plants. They grow to a certain height, stop, then flower and set all their fruit within a short period of time. Indeterminate tomatoes grow, flower, and bear fruit until killed by frost in the fall. This growth habit turns indeterminate tomatoes into tall, sprawling plants.

Both tomato varieties benefit from staking and training. Occasionally you can grow certain types with minimal support. Indefinite species often need to be trained or staked out in some way for the best fruit production.

When should I stake or start training tomato plants?

Tomatoes grow quickly after being planted in spring. You should have on hand the materials you need for the training method you intend to use at the time of planting. Many gardeners set up the equipment necessary for training at the time of planting. By early to mid-June, most tomato plants are big enough to begin active plant training and staking.

What methods can be used to poke a tomato plant?

Training methods vary, but the three most common methods for home gardeners are the wire cage, single stake, and web system.

use of a wire cage is one of the most popular ways to raise tomatoes as it requires less attention. This method works for both tomato varieties, but is ideal for certain varieties. Pre-made cages are readily available at garden centers. They tend to be undersized, especially for indeterminate varieties, and can sometimes be unstable and tip over easily. A tomato cage can be constructed by making a cylinder of concrete reinforcing wire or similar material with a mesh large enough to allow the fruit to be harvested. For most tomato plants, a wire cage 20 to 24 inches in diameter and 4 to 5 feet tall is ideal. Remove the horizontal wire at the bottom of the cage and insert the vertical wires or “feet” into the ground. Both crafted and homemade cages can be further stabilized by attaching the cage to a post or two. If using wire cages, space plants 2 to 3 feet apart. As the plant grows, just make sure the stems stay in the wire cage.

workout with a single bet requires placing a 7 to 8 foot stake 1 to 2 feet into the ground positioned 3 to 4 inches from the plant. As the tomato grows, tie the plant to the stake about every 12 inches along the stem with stretch ties or strips of nylon tubing or fabric. Tie the material in a loose figure 8, with the stake in one loop and the stem in the other. When using this method of pruning, pinch out the side shoots or suckers that form in the axils of the leaf and stem. Tomatoes that are staked can be planted 1.5 to 2 feet apart in rows that are 4 to 5 feet apart. This training method works well with unspecified tomato varieties, but is not recommended for specific species.

If you grow a lot of tomato plants, they will web system works well. Plant tomatoes 18 to 24 inches apart in rows 4 to 5 feet apart. Drive a 6 to 7 foot stake a foot into the ground every two plants along the row. Use a sturdy metal post 7 to 8 feet long driven 1 to 2 feet into the ground at each end of the row. When the plants are 12 to 14 inches tall, start weaving at 8 to 10 inches off the ground. Tie twine to the end post and sweep the twine Tomatoes grow.past the two plants along one side of the row. Then loop the string around the first stake and pull tight. Continue this process while pulling the yarn taut as you go down the row, keeping the yarn under tension until the end. At the end of the row, make a loop around the end post and turn to repeat the process on the other side of the row, trapping the plants between the two strands of yarn. When you return to the starting point, tie the string tightly to the end post. As the plants continue to grow, add another layer of twine 6 to 8 inches above the last one.

Do I need to prune the plants if I plant tomatoes?

Pruning side shoots or runners can benefit any training regime, but is important for those growing using the single staking method. Pinching out the stolon that forms where the base of the leaf attaches to the stem (the leaf axil) can reduce the bulk of the plant and support it more easily. This also focuses the plant’s energy on fruit production rather than growing suckers. Start pruning the suckers in late June, after the first flower clusters begin to form, but while they are still small.

While all tomatoes can benefit from pruning, certain varieties require less pruning than indeterminate species. Removing suckers can improve airflow and reduce disease problems. However, fruit is more prone to sunburn because removing sucker growth reduces canopy. Growing suckers that form higher up the plant later in the season will help shade fruit and reduce sunburn.

Shareable photo: Staking tomatoes to keep them off the ground.

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