The World’s Best Tomato Trellis

When it comes to tomato trellising, sometimes I feel like I’ve seen it all. The farms I’ve worked on usually use either the Florida Basket Weave (which sounds like a fancy hairdo to me) or tomato clips with the Greenhouse-String Method (which sounds like a bluegrass band). Home gardeners seem to use everything from simple wooden stakes to twirly metal ones, from classic round tomato cages to giant square ones that cost 50 bucks a pop and still lean like the tower of Pisa. People seem to get mighty creative in figuring out how to wrangle these unruly fruits, and for a long time it seemed like there was no taming them. But my life changed forever when my clever friend showed me her system, which had been built 20 years earlier and was still just as sturdy and useful as in its first year. Cheap, durable, versatile, long-lasting, and easy – those are 5 words not usually associated with tomatoes. But they certainly apply well to this trellis using concrete reinforcing wire.

Materials

To build this trellis, you really just need 4 things: a sheet of concrete reinforcing wire, zipties, two cedar posts, and a rubber mallet. Concrete reinforcing wire (also called “Remesh”) can be purchased at a home improvement store and costs about $8 per sheet. It’s basically heavy-duty wire mesh (intended to reinforce concrete foundations) with 4” or 6” square openings and comes in a sheet  about 4’ wide and 7’ long.

You’ll also need two 6’ cedar posts (the kind that are sharpened to a point on one end), usually about $2 each, a package of zipties (maybe $5, also from a home improvement store) and a rubber mallet from any hardware store. The only challenging thing about this trellis is figuring out how to transport the wire sheets. When you go to buy them, make sure to wear your dirtiest, most garden-ready clothes, and cover the interior of your vehicle with a tarp – the sheets are always rusty and in the process of ziptying them into a tube that can fit in a car you will get covered in rust. A pickup truck makes this a lot easier!

Building the Trellis

Making this trellis is so easy that you can put it up by yourself in no time. Just pound your cedar stakes into the ground 6-7’ apart (along your future tomato row) using the rubber mallet. Then attach the top of the sheet of reinforcing wire to the top of the stakes at either end using zipties. The rough texture of the cedar stakes helps the zipties grip the wood and stay nice and sturdy. You’ll notice that there’s a big gap between the ground and where the trellis begins, but will find that this is actually a good thing.

Just Weave and Harvest!

Once planted under the trellis, your tomato plants will have some time to grow. Then, just as they’re starting to get viney and flop over, they’re tall enough to get woven through the holes of the trellis. As your tomato plants grow, keep pruning off the suckers and weaving the leader back and forth through the wire. The key is to be very gentle when weaving – tomato plants are flexible, but will break if bent too much. But the ultimate reward for your efforts is a literal wall of tomatoes. The plants don’t have to put energy into holding themselves up, so they can focus on producing fruit, and the plants get great air circulation because there’s none of that jungly mess you usually have to deal with. Less jungle = less disease = more tomatoes! Plus, picking tomatoes off your new “wall” is as easy as taking them off the shelf in the grocery store (and way more gratifying).

Cost

Like any good gardener, you’re probably doing some quick math in your head. Except I’m going to beat you to it. So…

For two cedar posts:

  • two cedar posts at $2 each = $4
  • one sheet concrete reinforcing wire = $8
  • zipties = $5
  • TOTAL = $17
  • 4 plants at $4.25 each

For four cedar posts:

  • four cedar posts at $2 each = $8
  • two sheets concrete reinforcing wire = $16
  • zipties = $5
  • TOTAL = $29
  • 8 plants at $3.63 each

Since this trellis can easily support 4 tomato plants (and probably 6 if you’re an optimist), that comes out to $4.25 per plant. If you do more than one, the cost goes down even more because you just need one pack of zipties. That’s roughly the same as a standard round tomato cage. But keep in mind – a standard cage won’t do anything for your tomato plants once they’re over 3 or 4 feet tall. In my experience the round cages always fall apart in one or two seasons – the plants are too big and heavy for them, and then the stakes come off the rings, and then you’re trying to figure out how to stake a plant with a cage around it when it’s already gotten tangled up with all your other plants. I save myself the headache and squashed fruit, make a small one-time investment in this genus I love so well, and sit back to watch my lycopersicon vines climb. At the end of the season, you can leave your trellises in place or pull up the stakes, roll them up with the wire, and store until next season (they make a great support for peas in the spring, too!) Not sure what to do with all those half-functioning tomato cages? Those work great for eggplant.

If this trellising system doesn’t work for you, be sure to check out an earlier blog post “Trellising Your Organic Tomatoes” for alternate ideas!

This entry was posted in Beginner Gardeners' Guide, Growing Tips and tagged . Bookmark the permalink.

13 Responses to The World’s Best Tomato Trellis

  1. Pingback: Trellis Tips and Designs commercial and residential | Trellis Works

  2. Len says:

    Rather than stand the mesh vertically we lay ours flat. The first sheet is about 400 mm or so off the ground and the second about the same height above the first and finally a third sheet about shoulder height. The Tomato plants grow through the holes and weave themselves. Only the outside edges need a tuck in occasionally.

  3. Sally says:

    I use two of the mesh leaning into each other, and zip tied together to support two rows without having to try to sink a post into our very rocky soil (only about 6″ below my raised beds)

  4. Gina says:

    I built several ladder trellises, 8′ tall, wider at the bottom and taper in at the top — simple construction — four 8′ 2×2′s (1.5″ hinges at the top so each side can be placed closer or further apart from each other and folded flat for storage), and 2 more 2×2′s for the “rungs” of the ladder, spaced evenly on each side. Tomatoes can be grown up each side. I painted the structures bright apple green to also look architecturally interesting since I have an urban garden, the paint being matched to plastic apple green fencing for cheap which can be cut to size with scissors — this is construction grade netting fencing, the same type you see that is usually bright orange — comes in other colors, such as olive green. I cut this in sections to put on the underside of the “ladder” between each set of rungs, so that you don’t have to look at the plastic from the onset of setting out your small plants, and you see only the beauty of the architecure of the trellis. As the plants mature, the sections of plastic netting can be secured to the back underside of the trellis one at a time so that the plants can be weaved in and out and the tomatoes, being slanted will sit without bent stems on the supportive plastic netting. I burried each trellis into the ground about 6″ and put 2′ stakes on the insides of each leg , secured with zip ties — however, if the trellis is spread further apart at the base, you would not need to dig it into the ground and could just use stakes.. Easy storage; they fold flat and don’t need to stay permanently in the same spot — serving crop rotation. The materials were $12 for the lumber (new) and hinges for each trellis and $40 for a 100′ roll of netting, but it comes in smaller rolls. The paint for 6 trellises was less than $20. You could make it cheaper by using used timbers which are weathered and not use paint. I also made short square “saw horse” versions of these for cukes/squash, no staking required.

    • Ceely King says:

      Do you have a blog or someplace to see a pic? I am all about re-usable, re-purposed items. And the idea of crop rotations, I am adding to my raised beds, so this would be a great help

  5. This would probably work for pole beans, too.

  6. Peter Levesque says:

    Instead of using concrete wire ,I use livestock- cattle panels for my trellises(bought at Tractor Supply and cost $22.00 each). These panels are 16 feet long and 50 inches high and the squares are 6 inches X 8 inches very strong and reusable ,they are also galvanized so they will last for a very long time. I use small bolt cutters or an electric grinder to cut them, and I use 6 ft T Post (also at Tractor Supply or Home Depot) on each end to hold them up. Use a 6 ft tomato stake tied in the middle to keep them straight. I use these trellises for Peas & cukes. They do take time to set up and are awkward to move alone, but I set up 25 of these full panels each season .Secure the top square of the panel over the top of the T post and tie off the bottom of the panel to the T post a few inches from the soil so you can cultivate under it .I remove they panels with dried vines on them and remove the dried up vines before storing them at the end of the growing season. NOTE do not use U Post they are not strong enough.

  7. Janet Robbins says:

    We (my students and I) do the same as Peter but do not cut the hog panels. Lowes carries them as well but they are usually very uneducated as to what one of these panels are… they will take you to the cattle panels which are gates and connectable fencing made of bent metal tubing. Much more expensive. They have the hog (they call them cattle) panels right next to the other ones!:) We use t-posts and zip ties. I dont take the time to prop them up above the ground… but many friends do. We string three of them together and plant on both sides- alternating, of course. We can fit at least 25 plants in a 48′ row and it is moveable to allow for crop rotation! We bend the panels over into hoops and use them for cucumbers and beans too. later in the year, we house animals in them…. totally wonderful product!!!! Tomatoes are held in place well…. I won’t do it any other way now!

  8. CTY says:

    I use a similar method with some fancy vintage fence (with metal sprawling ivy design) sections I scavenged. I too join (hinge) them at the top and simply spread them apart as needed; I stake them down about 12 inches into the ground. However, I found that zip ties deteriorate rather quickly in the southern California sun–and learned the hard way when a section began to fall. So I secured them with rebar wire (16 gauge, 400′ for $4). For new trellises I use zip ties because they are super quick and I don’t have to hold the trellis and fumble with wire & pliers at the same time. Once the zip ties are in place I go back and secure with wire. The trellises are easy to remove and store flat if needed. Mine stay up year round because I am lucky to have year round growing. Tomatoes & peppers in the summer, Cucumbers early fall, Peas over the winter, lettuce in the spring, then back to tomatoes & peppers.

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