I’LL NEVER GROW TOMATOES ANY OTHER WAY THAN THIS.

O.K. You’ve tried every method for growing tomatoes on the planet. Me too.  Well you can high five whoever is closest to you right now, because YOUR SEARCH HAS FINALLY ENDED!

8' high tomato plant seen perfectly tidy growing up a wood fence with the string method.

 

Dear Florida Weave, You suck.  Dear Tomato Cage, You suck.  Dear Weird Spiraly Wire thing, You super-suck.

Dear String Method, I love you with all of my heart.  You do not, nor will you ever suck. Sincerely, Everyone who has ever tried you.

Don’t know about the string method? You can read all about it in my first post on the string method and how to do it.

Before I go on and on and on and on and on and on about how if you grow tomatoes you shouldn’t bother with any other support system than the string method, let’s have a quick reminder of what an heirloom tomato looks like when left to its own devices by the month of August.

 

A sprawling 9' high tomato plant takes over the white front porch of a brick cottage.

 

So, yeah.  Impressive for sure.  Also space sucking, a little bit tangled and frightening to children, pets and any adult who doesn’t have some sort of martial arts training.

I remember sticking my head in this plant to pick a tomato and thinking … well here goes … this is why people buy life insurance … then hoping I’d be able to pop back out in the next 5 minutes before some sort of tomato vine strangulation occurred.

A perfectly tidy tomato plant grows espalier style against a wood fence by using the string method of growing.

The string method on the other hand … is a work of art.  And you get the same amount of tomatoes because the plant isn’t spending all its energy on creating miles and miles of stems and leaves sticking out every which way.

This is how a tomato plant approximately the same age looks in my yard this year.  LOOK AT IT!

The string method is just a matter of planting a tomato, pruning out all the suckers leaving only the one main stem, and wrapping that stem as it grows around a string.  In this case the string is attached to a screw at the top of my fence.  Here are all the details in case you missed it the first time around when I talked about it in the spring.

Once the vine reaches the top of the string you can either continue the string  horizontally or you can drop the whole plant down (you can see there are a couple of feet of bare stem at the bottom) by loosening the string, and letting it climb up again.

The reason the stem is bare at the bottom is because after your tomato has set fruit you remove all the leaves underneath that first fruit set. Once you pick that fruit, you remove all the leaves from below the next fruit set. And so on.  You eventually end up with a lot of bare stem.

Using the string method to grow tomatoes in a large garden on a summer day.

 

I tried the string method at my house on a whim to see how it would work against a fence but the main reason I tried it was for my community garden to save space and work.  In the spring when the seedlings were about 18″ high, I attached my string and started training them.

Now the tomatoes have made their way almost to the top of the string.

Tomato plants reach for the sky growing neatly up tight strings.

 

And the plants and fruit are PERFECT.

String training tomatoes in garden plot where they were previously staked.

 

There was no disease at all because there’s so much air flowing between the plants to keep the leaves dry. Since you pinch off all the leaves below the fruit nothing is near the ground to get disease splashed up on it when it rains.

 

String trained tomatoes heavy with fruit showing the success of this staking method.

 

It’s tomato Narnia. Actually, since I’m from the 80’s it’s tomato Nirvana.

Tigerella tomatoes ripening on tomato vine supported by string method.

There’s exactly enough greenery to produce nice tomatoes but not so much that the fruit is shaded.  Every tomato gets plenty of light and air.

San Marzano tomatoes ripening on tomato vine being supported with string method.

Everything grows so perfectly and in order that it’s almost bizarre.

Juliette tomatoes ripening on a vine supported by the string method.

All in a single row up the vine you have ripe tomatoes at the bottom with cluster after cluster above them in various stages of growing and ripening.

 

8' tall tomato plant growing espalier style on a wood fence using the string method.

And not a single plant looks as though it’s going to reach out and wrestle you to the ground.

Not all experiments in the garden turn out this well.  Not all experiments in the kitchen turn out well.  Or decorating, DIY, fix it, hairstyle or makeup experiments.

But for every contouring experiment that makes you look like a paint by number, or every marshmallow/potato/fish salad that makes you sick, there’s a string method.

So keep experimenting and learning and trying. It ain’t that hard.  Any of it.

 

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116 Comments

  1. Nancy says:

    Is this string method only to be used for heirloom tomatoes or can it be used for a beefsteak tomato plant is well?

  2. Laura says:

    This sounds like a fantastic method! I plan to try it this year. Do you leave a bit of extra string at the top for lowering the plant a bit? If so, how much? If that’s not a possibility, would you ever cut the top of the main stem once it’s reached the max height of the string or will that reduce the number of tomatoes produced? Thanks so much for any info that you can pass along!

    • Karen says:

      Hi Laura. I wouldn’t cut the top of the plant until it had reached near the end of the season and I wanted it to focus its energy on ripening the tomatoes on it. You don’t need to add extra string at the top. :) You can either let the tomato go down the other side of the string or you can loosen the tomato from the string, and pull the stem down. This will get you a bend or loop in the bottom of the plant and will pull the top down quite a bit. ~ karen!

      • Laura says:

        Thank you for the info and explanation, Karen. I can totally picture what you mean now – I needed the visual in my head. I’ve actually just come in from building the raised bed that will house these tomatoes. We cut a few limbs off of one of our a maple trees and so I fashioned a trellis for the string out of three of the branches. Should work out perfectly! 🍅

  3. Kathryn says:

    Plan to try this method. I’m confused about how to “drop down” the tomato when it gets to the top of the string. In my community garden we can only have a 6 ft. high structure. Thanks!

  4. john david Burke says:

    were do you tie the string to and what tyep of string?

    • Karen says:

      Hi John, you can use any type of string, but if it’s organic like sisal or twine it’s possible the twine will break before the end of the season. I now use a nylon string, which will also break, lol, but not for a few years. The top of the string is tied to anything horizontal over the tomatoes, the bottom of the string isn’t tied, but is wrapped around the bottom of the tomato stem. You can also use U staples and insert them into the soil, and tie the strings to that to make them very taut. ~ karen!

  5. Amy MacIsaac says:

    I just wanted you to know that you inspired me!! I pulled out some dead/dying shrubs, stole some bamboo to make a trellis and just planted my tomatoes using the string method!! Of course my husband thinks it’s ugly but it’s not. He is…

  6. Black thumb veggie grower says:

    Hi love the string idea..but do you prune the same way on an indeterminate tomato..and for the sake of how cool it looks…can you still use string method?

  7. Mechelle says:

    How far apart do you set the plants?

  8. Dorlis Grote says:

    Noticed you have plants surrounded by chicken wire, have problems with raccoons? I have had problems with them this year. they dig everything up, don’t eat them, just dig them up. as a last resort, am using coyote urine, a radio on all night. next step is chicken wire. Last year I brought my tomato in for the winter and harvested tomatoes all winter long.

    • Karen says:

      Hi Dorlis, I currently have 1″ of chicken wire dug into the ground surrounding my entire garden now, with 4′ of deer fencing overtop. Loose deer fencing or something flimsy is good for keeping raccoons out because it’s to weak and wobbly for them to climb. ~ karen!

  9. Phyllis says:

    How did you install all those poles?

  10. Vernon Kamiaz says:

    Hi Karen,
    I just came from the school garden where I work at. I harvested cherry tomatoes and okra. It was some what of a difficult job. I am experiencing a weaken leg and what appears to be some muscle lose all over my body. It is believed to be nerve damage related. But I suffer no pain like a pinched nerve. This is another story but my physical restraints is what drew me to your article on “stringing tomatoes.”
    I teach Permaculture at my high school here on Guam and we are now on our summer break. The students are gone but that does not keep the plants from fruiting. I have a difficulty with bending over and harvesting or kneeling on the ground to get to the tomatoes that are growing at about calf level to me. I struggle getting up. As I read your article and see your method of supporting your tomatoes I thought this would be great for the plants AND great for people like me who like to garden but have issues with having to go down on a knee to harvest. Your string method would work wonders for challenged people like me who have difficulties kneeling down, squatting, or bending over to harvest the fruits. With your method I can sit on a stool to harvest tomatoes at the lower end of the plant and as the plant grows, I simply stand and harvest.
    I will have my students look at all methods of supporting the plants, including yours, have them make a lab report on the outcome of growing and harvesting the fruits of the plant. Great laboratory experiment for my students. We are in the planning stages of doing a community garden in our village and one of the ideas we want to implement in our garden is the use of raised beds on the ground and raised beds with legs. All for the goal of meeting the needs of those of the community who have issues with going all the way to the ground to garden. We want to bring the growing of vegetables and fruits (tomatoes and others) up to the gardener. We are thinking of our “manamko – senior citizens) with this idea too. We want to include them and wheel chair bound people with our garden.
    Thanks for sharing this methodology with your readers.
    Vernon

    • Karen says:

      Hi Vernon. I’m so glad you’re including it in an experiment. I’ll be interested to see how it all works out. I also built a raised bed on legs for my mother who is 84 and it works great. It’s in the shape of a “V” so it’s deeper down the centre of the bed (to accommodate bigger root systems, or long roots like carrots) and shallower near the edges. Good luck with your harvest! ~ karen

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