Trellising Your Organic Tomatoes

Tomatoes pose a unique challenge to gardeners large and small. Indeterminate varieties can reach towering heights but are unable to support themselves, especially once they begin to set fruit. All varieties of tomatoes gain several benefits from support. Plants are able to dry out more quickly, leading to less rot, ripening is more thorough and even, and harvest is easier and faster. Three popular and effective methods of supporting tomato plants are using a freestanding structure, trellising with an overhead string, and the Florida Weave.

Freestanding Structure

Many home gardeners choose to support each tomato plant with its own freestanding structure. Tomato cages and field stakes are the most popular choices, allowing plants to grow at different rates while being supported at any height.

Stakes should be at least four feet tall and set no less than one foot deep. They can be made from bamboo, scrap wood, or an iron bar. Place each stake about 2-4” away from the base of the plant. As the plant grows, tie the vine to the stake with loose knots, preferably just below a major branch.

Tomato cages come in many shapes and sizes, and can often be made at home with repurposed materials. The most popular are cylindrical woven wire secured by stakes pushed into the ground. Tomatoes may need to be tied in order to grow up the center of the cage. Alternatively, they can be carefully trained by hand.

Overhead String

Another trellis technique preferred by growers is overhead string support. As an especially efficient use of space, this method is ideal for high tunnel tomato production, but can be put to use indoors or out. With overhead support, each tomato plant is given one string, running from floor to ceiling, on which to climb. It is important to have a strong support system, such as the hoops or rafters in a greenhouse or an A-frame structure. Make sure any structure can handle a heavy load before setting any strings.

Tie one string per vine directly overhead, making sure it is long enough to reach all the way to the floor. Securely tie the string to the base of the vine, keeping the line taut but the loop not so tight as to damage the stem. Many start by pruning tomato plants down to one or two vines, but I’ve strung as many as five vines per plant using this method.

As the plants grow, there are two popular ways to train the vine up the string. Some choose to wrap the vine around the string a little bit at a time. This can be hard if the string is too taut, but if done well, wrapping the vine can very evenly distribute the weight of the plant. Alternatively, vines can be tied or clipped to the string, allowing the plant to grow straight up. Many growers purchase tomato clips, which are specifically designed for this method of trellising; twine is a perfectly good substitute. Attach clips directly to the vine below a major branch.


Florida Weave

An increasing number of tomato growers are using what has come to be called the Florida Weave. While there are many variations to this approach, the basic premise is the same for each. The Florida Weave is easy to put up and take down, as well as simple to maintain during the season. This method works best for tomatoes grown in the field in long single rows.

Start by driving long stakes at least one foot into the soil every 2-5 plants. Set the stakes in the middle of the row, equally spaced between two plants. Using lightweight twine, tie the first line to an end post about eight inches above the ground. Run the line on the front side of the first set of tomato plants, on the back side of the next post, and then return to the front of the tomato plants. This first string will be run in front of all the plants, and behind all of the posts. Make a full loop around at least every other post to keep the line from slipping. At the last stake, tie off and work down the row, mirroring the first line. This second line will run behind all the plants, and in front of all the posts. The two lines will form figure eights as they are woven.

As the plants grow, repeat this process, setting another line about every eight inches. Tuck in wayward branches when necessary, and be sure to maintain tension in all lines. Before long, you’ll have a wall of plants ready to bear the weight of a heavy fruit set. I recommend anchoring the two end stakes securely, as they are under the most pressure. A guy line and tent stake work well, but be careful not to trip when you’re admiring those gorgeous, ripe tomatoes!

General Trellis Tips:

  • Prevent the spread of bacterial and fungal disease by pruning, staking, or stringing the plants when they are completely dry.
  • Make sure all stakes and posts are secure – at least a foot deep, but more if possible.
  • Try to match the size of your trellis system with the plants you’re growing. An indeterminate variety will quickly outgrow a small tomato cage.
  • Whenever possible, avoid breaking major branches or bending the vine against its will.
  • Before a hard wind or rain, check the strength of all structures and tighten anything that is loose.


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17 Responses to Trellising Your Organic Tomatoes

  1. These are all excellent tips! It’s on my bucket list to start growing my own tomatoes.

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  5. Patrice says:

    I moved to a new house last summer, too late to put in a garden, so I bought several pre-started tomatoes (and basil) and planted them in nursery pots in my back yard.

    Busy with new-home-ownership chores, I sort of ignored them aside from keeping them watered. One day I realized it was too late to put cages around them, and as I pondered what to do to support them a wind storm came in and knocked one sideways.

    Panicked, I dragged its pot to the chain-link fence of an old (unused) dog run and hurriedly cut up grocery bags to make ties, then lashed that plant and its sisters to the fence.

    They continued to grow well into the fall, happily and beautifully (well, aside from the grocery bags). In fact, I’m going to use that fence again this year, but with more attractive green soft-ties.

    The ugly dog run was camouflaged, and I had a long productive stretch of espaliered tomatoes in its place. Lovely!

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  7. Sharon Arrizubieta says:

    I too learned about the Florida weave last year – I grow tomatoes in an abandoned lambing shed, using old windows for the cover. I use 6′ rebar beginning at the top end of the row – drive down a foot or more and place them every 2 tomato plants – driving each piece of rebar as deep and you can, then use the twine method. Removing the suckers and being vigilant in stringing the twine makes for a good clean row of tomatoes – easy picking and happy plants. Thanks for the trellis tips.

  8. Here in the Pacific NW it is important to get as much sun to our plants as possible. Many years ago I learned a technique from a well-known gardener in Portland named Peter Chan. It goes like this—when the plants are at least 12-18 in. tall, remove all the leaves from the bottom 6 in. of each plant. Allow for 3-4 main branches to come out from the main stalk. Stake these up,opening up the center to allow for sun. Water with a drip system and fertilize as you would normally do. Use only indeterminate varieties and not the shorter determinate ones. With this method ,I have a very large crop of tomatoes every year and no broken stalks . I tie up my branches with nylons that I cut up in strips. It is important to use strong stakes to hold up the plants. I had tried many other methods before and found that this really has been the best for me. I grow 25 + plants every year. I have used this method for over 25 years and have been very happy with the results and the huge slugs we get up here can’t get the tomatoes ! It really keeps the rot down too, due to the better air circulation.

  9. Dan Lawton says:

    If you do the Florida weave, weave the twine between the plants, so it goes in front of the first plant and behind the second plant, and so on. It work much better.

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  11. Maybelline says:

    I do a similar thing with my tomatoes. I call it “stringing”.
    Happy gardening.

  12. lauren macintosh says:

    I have a question. Because I have a flower garden out here that was way overgrown I have spent since March just cleaning it out. I am planting one maybe two tomato plants in there. But the garden is loaded with so many of those little white gross worms and I forget the name of them. I have already planted a few annuals. What is the best way to rid the garden of these little buggers. I saw a bag of something at home depot the other night but geesh the bag was small and it was $20.00. And will these chemicals destroy any enjoyment one can get from home grown tomato’s?

    • ruth apter says:

      You need to KNOW what the worms are. They may be the larval form of moths and will not harm your tomatoes. Or they may be something you need to deal with. Not everything in your soil is bad! If you use poison you are not growing organic tomatoes. Contact your extension service or local Master Gardeners to identify what is in your soil. Use the least toxic way to deal with the situation you can if indeed you need to do anything at all.
      Don’t forget that those “worms” may be bird food!

  13. Bob Spencer says:


    I have used the “Florida weave” for years in Virginia. I just use long posts so that the weave can reach as high as 6 feet. It’s not unusual for the plants to grow taller and hang over and droop down. I use bailing twine because it’s strong enough to hold the heaviest plants.


  14. Nicole says:

    The Florida weave and overhead string method work well for determinate varieties and can work okay for indeterminate varieties which are carefully and brutally pruned. Nor are the small tomato cages sold in garden centers up to the task.

    Here in the south, a 10-12′ central vine on an indeterminate tomato is not unusual. Round cages made from concrete reinforcing wire are sturdy enough to grow the tomato up — and then down the outside. The heavy duty cages are a whole lot less work than tying and trellising, but the panels can also be used as a trellis.

  15. It takes a lot of time, energy, and infrastructure investment, but this is how we trellis tomatoes

  16. jengi says:

    we’ve been using 16′ L x 4′H Hog fencing for the past 3 years. We’ve been doing them in pairs, with about 6′ in between and a 1′ wide row of basil up the middle. We then tie the tomato vines to the fencing as they grow and are able to harvest from the outside of the row through the fence. We have been able to produce up to and over 450lbs of tomatoes on 4 of the 16′ panels!

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