The Best Way to Stake Tomatoes is With a Piece of String.

In 2016 I experimented with a new way to stake my tomatoes because I’m never satisfied with anything, especially when it come to gardening. But every so often I find a tip, technique or trick and realize this is IT. THIS is the way it should be done.  Supporting tomatoes with a single string – is one of those things.

A row of 20 or so tomatoes being supported with individual strings going to each plant from an 8' high beam.

There has to be a better way.  There’s always a better way (unless it’s making french fries in which case McDonalds definitely has a lock on that).  I say that little mantra with pretty much everything I do, see or live with.

My living room?  Not quite right yet.  My dining room?  Ditto?  Backyard, bedroom, garden, thighs, ditto, ditto, ditto.  

And for many years staking my tomatoes was the same thing. Different methods worked but they weren’t quite right.

I’ve done cages, stakes, espaliering and the Florida Weave (which works well but still results in a big MESS of tomato plants.) 

My search for the perfect way to support tomatoes ended when I discovered and tried the string method. 

Supporting Your Tomatoes with String Not Stakes

Stringing is a method that up until recently was normally only seen in commercial greenhouses or the back fields of very astute hippie homesteaders. 

It requires nothing more than string and something to support the string from. Tomato stems are wound up the string as they grow.

Man with a beard in a plaid shirt runs hose to water in tomato plants being grown up a string on homestead.

I don’t know this guy. This guy is just stringing up his tomatoes.  Never met him.  Good photo though.

I had read about string training but never really thought about applying it to my own garden until a fellow community gardener who is even more nuts when it comes to research and trying new things than I am said he was going to be doing it. 

 

How to Use the String Method With Tomatoes

Stringing is literally allowing your tomatoes to climb up a single string.  Doing this, along with the pruning that goes along with the method results in SUPER neat and tidy rows of tomatoes.  

 

Pruning Tomatoes When Using the String Method

For stringing your tomatoes you have one of two choices for pruning.

  • The French Method which involves getting rid of allllllll other leaders and suckers other than your main tomato stem
  • The Missouri Method, which involves pinching out the suckers, but leaving a few leaves on to help give the tomato plant energy and the ripening fruit some shade.   Or something like that.  But who cares because we’re not doing it.
  • Pruning your tomatoes of all the suckers means that you will get less tomatoes, but they will be healthier and bigger.
  • If you’d like more tomatoes (but they’ll be smaller) you can use the French Method but allow the first sucker that develops over the first cluster of flowers to grow into another leader.  Each will need their own string to climb up with a minimum of 12″ between each string.

We’re doing the French Method you and I because it’s easier to keep track of and French which means it’s better, cooler, more elegant and has more swagger than anything else in the world has to offer.

An 18" high tomato plant supported by a string on a sunny day.

The French Pruning Method.

No suckers, no extra leaders. Only one stem with leaves coming off of it.

Here we go!

How to use the string method with tomatoes.

  1.  Run a wire, pipe or board between two 8′ high stakes. You can also use string in a pinch.

Newly planted tomatoes in a raised garden bed placed 12" apart with a string hanging down from a support for each to grow up.

 

2.   Tie a string every 12″- 18″  so it hangs down towards the soil. Plant your tomatoes at every string so they are also 12″-18″ apart.  

3. Secure the string to the soil at the base of your tomato with a garden pin by winding the string around the pin and shoving it in the soil. You can also wrap the string several time around the base of the tomato plant to secure it. (I use pins now, I used to just wind it around the base of the plant)

4. Remove any suckers that have formed. You can read more about how to identify suckers in this post here.

Woman demonstrates how to pinch off a sucker growing between the stem and branch of a tomato plant.

Removing a sucker. The shoot that grows between the main stem and leafy branch of tomatoes.

5.  Twirl your plants around the string once your tomato is around 12″ high and is getting its first set of flowers. 

A bright green tomato plant twisted around a green poly string that supports it.

 

6. Continue to remove suckers and twirl once a week until the end of summer.

Why You Should Remove Tomato Leaves

  • Removing the lower leaves as the plant grows is a good way to help reduce disease because the most devastating tomato diseases like blight are soil borne and when it rains, the spores splash up onto the tomato leaves, where it then travels up the plant until it eventually kills it. By removing the lower leaves, closest to the ground you can help slow down or prevent this from happening. 
  • Tomatoes form fruit from the bottom of the plant upwards.  Any leaves beneath tomatoes that are flowering or forming are just taking energy away from fruit production.  They’re using more energy from the plant than they’re giving back. Removing them directs more energy to the all the fruit above. 
  • Therefore, once you see the first set of flowers forming on your tomato plant, remove the leaves beneath it. 

 

 

3 rows of tomato plants grown without cages, using the string method instead, 18" apart in a large garden.

The first year I tried this method, I worked with what I had, which was stakes that were already planted in the ground every 18″. I just ran a string across the top of them all and hung my string down from that.

 

Green string winds around the stem of an heirloom tomato to support it instead of a stake or cage.

If you forget to prune out suckers and you’re facing a wild jungle of a tomato plant don’t be tempted to prune everything back at once.  Only take off 25% of the plant at any one time. Taking more will put the plant into shock, slow its growth a bit and make your tomato leaves curl.

If you notice curled leaves on your tomato, chances are it’s because you over pruned. Prune a little, then let the tomato plant recuperate for a week or so until you prune again.

A tidy row of tomatoes grow up strings towards the sky.

Tomato varieties that work with string training.

Indeterminate varieties vs determinate varieties. 

Indeterminate varieties of tomatoes keep getting taller and taller until they’re killed by frost. They can grow 9′ tall or more.

Determinate varieties (also called bush tomatoes) have a pre-determined height bred into them and will stop growing once they reach a certain height. Usually around 3-4′. 

This method is for indeterminate varieties of tomatoes.  The kind that can grow 9′ tall or more.  

Why String Training is Better Than Staking or Caging.

  • Strings can be left up from season to season.
  • You can fit more tomato plants into a smaller space.
  • Plants can grow as high as 8′ or more.
  • Keeping plants at one leader gives much better air circulation around the plants which helps keep them disease free.
  • String training can also be applied to growing beans like you see here, cucumbers 
How to Stake Tomatoes ... with String!

How to Stake Tomatoes ... with String!

Prep Time: 1 hour
Total Time: 1 hour
Difficulty: Easy
Estimated Cost: $0

Whether you're new to gardening or not you're probably constantly searching for the best way to stake tomatoes. THIS is it.

Materials

  • Heavy string
  • 3, 8' stakes (2x2s work well)
  • tomato plants

Instructions

  1. Run a wire, pipe or stake between two 8′ high stakes. You can also use string in a pinch.*
  2. Tie a string every 12″- 18″  so it hangs down towards the soil. Plant your tomatoes at every string so they are also 12″-18″ apart.  
  3. Secure the string to the soil at the base of your tomato with a garden pin by winding the string around the pin and shoving it in the soil. You can also wrap the string several time around the base of the tomato plant to secure it. (I use pins now, I used to just wind it around the base of the plant)
  4. Remove any suckers that have formed. You can read more about how to identify suckers in this post here.
  5. Twirl your plants around the string once your tomato is around 12″ high and is getting its first set of flowers. 
  6. Continue to remove suckers and twirl once a week until the end of summer.

Notes

  • You can use any string but synthetic string that doesn't stretch is best. It will also last for years.
  • Biodegradable string like jute or twine can also be used as long as it's thick enough not to degrade and fall apart during the growing season. It should be replaced every year.
  • Never prune off more than 25% of foliage at one time.
  • You can allow your tomato plant to have either one or two leaders.
  • *to give extra support to your stakes hammer in a metal t post right next to each stake in the ground, then screw them together. Once your stake rots at soil level in a couple of years, it'll stay in place looking nice because of the t post.

Wanna see how the string method worked with a single tomato flat against a fence?  It would work flat against a house too.  Check out this post.

By the end of the summer you’ll have straight, tall tomatoes which get a lot of air circulation and a lot of sun. They’ll be bald at the bottom and producing healthy tomatoes at the top.

Hypothetically of course.

Because this is gardening and all hell could break loose at any moment. A wild band of twirling goats or screaming aphids could come barreling through your garden destroying everything in its wake.  

You just don’t know.

 

 
 

→Follow me on Instagram where I often make a fool of myself←

 
 

The Best Way to Stake Tomatoes is With a Piece of String.

124 Comments

  1. Linda in Illinois says:

    I would love to do this method as well, however, I have no space for 8′ poles. and how did you get them in the ground omgosh !.

  2. Karen, you are toying with us.

    Really…do you think we wouldn’t know this is the guy with the beard you brought home from the antique market? You say you don’t know him…humph..I believe she doest protest too much.

    Enjoy, girlfriend!

    …..Stringing the tomatoes, of course. ;-)

  3. Mindy says:

    I have neighbors who have done this three years in a row and it’s awesome.

  4. Erin says:

    Like Garth said, the bearded guy’s style of trellis works great for pole beans too. We had to learn the hard way that in our windy location, any trellis must be well anchored!
    This is my second year to use the French method on my hoop house tomatoes. Last year I didn’t keep up with removing the suckers and it was a mess. My goal this year is to be merciless with the pruning. Yes, I’ve got some curled leaves too.

  5. Darla says:

    This is how my blog reading goes…
    read blog, click on links to see if you are doing the florida weave (yes), see mention of canning tomato sauce, find tomato sauce recipe, print recipe….now I’m tired and I still need to can tomatoes.
    Anyway, I agree with Gail. It is just too hot here in Oklahoma to get rid of too much foliage, but I love the idea.
    Btw…once you get the arm waddle very few people can ever get rid of it.

  6. Garth Wunsch says:

    I’ve also done this for years with tomatoes, cucumbers and pole beans. Works wonders and great space saver. My A-frame is made of Maple saplings that I salvage from the bush and reuse many years. Your friends installation is very neat and well built, but he will have a lot of work moving it next season… if he wants to help avoid disease by rotating his crop. I mulch heavily with straw and plant green onions and lettuce along the free understory area. Mulching is amazing – I can weed my 1200 square foot garden in under five minutes once a week.

  7. Katie C. says:

    I’ve seen this method done on TV by huge nurseries, but I didn’t realize actual people did it!

    This is my first year with a vegetable garden and there’s just so much information! I want to try everything.

  8. Gail Blain Peterson says:

    I do the Florida weave method. In NW Kansas is it HOT and if we remove all the excessive foliage the tomatoes will scald, sunburn, etc — actually sometimes they do even with the excessive foliage. So messy looking tomato rows are my reality.

  9. Eileen says:

    Goats, screaming aphids…or you can discover the world’s cutest little bunny in your yard…and then discover that all your bean and okra seedlings are nothing but tiny stalks gasping their last. And it’s way too late to do this with my sorry looking lot of tomatoes this year. Which is probably why said bunny has left them alone? Yesterday I had an attack of “mean” and sprinkled cayenne all around the remaining seedlings. (and boy, do I feel guilty)

  10. Victoria says:

    I do a version of this with my red and yellow jelly bean tomatoes. I’ve made frames by bending electrical conduit into 4 foot wide 8 foot tall trellises. 2 pieces of 10 foot conduit bent at the 2 foot mark, then join the short ends with a little joint brackets. Jam the long ends into the ground and string six pieces of string hanging down. Yes, I have to use a step ladder to set it up!
    I plant 2 plants under the trellis and prune them so I have 3 strong branches from each plant, training each up a string. Every year they grow up and over the trellis! It is sooo easy to find the tasty little jelly beans because the plant is flattened out.
    New string each year but the frames can be popped out and stored in the garage. Though my dad has been known to leave his up all winter and string up Christmas lights…

  11. Mel says:

    The string tie method is how my Bulgarian grandfather grew tomatoes in his glasshouses, commercially- so with great success!

    As for the arm skin thing- here in Oz we call those bat wings, tuckshop arms, bingo wings or if you’ve seen the show Kath ‘n’ Kim ‘fadoobadahs’… :) Mine are awesome when writing on the blackboard at school!!

  12. jainegayer says:

    I understand the french method has way more swagger but that guy in the blue jeans seems to have some swagger going on. Are you sure you don’t know him? What’s this blog about, stringing tomatoes? I need coffee.

  13. Ann says:

    you made the comment that you can string tie indeterminates but not hybrids. But I think that you might have to replace hybrid with determinate, which is the lower growing, everything gets ripe at once kind of tomato. Hybrids can be either determinate or indeterminate.

    My tomatoes are looking wonderful right now. But the stink bugs keep bothering the fruit so we have to pick it the second there is any color at all to them and bring them in to finish ripening. So of course, right now I have no kitchen counter tops available to do anything with. But it is very very colorful!

    • Karen says:

      Yes that’s true. I always use hybrid and determinate interchangeably all the timeeven though they’re not the same, lol. In *most* but definitely not all cases hybrids are usually determinate. ~ karen!

      • Thom Spengler says:

        Karen, that’s simply not true. Most of the big seed companies (e.g. Burpees) promote F1 hybrids, because those hybrid’s seeds will not breed true to the parent plant. So you buy their seeds every year. Look at a Burpee catalog; the great majority are hybrids. The words determinate & indeterminate are the proper descriptors.

        Of course that’s a minor flaw in a wonderful article… would appreciate more pix of cordoned tomatoes in August, after a bit of production. Thanks.

  14. Carswell says:

    When my ex and I first bought the house I now own we had a big veggie garden in the back. After doing a bunch of reading, looking at beautiful pictures of potagers and whatnot – and because I love just about any kind of garden structure and trellis – we built a support system like the one in the first pice and grew a truckload of tomatoes.

    That system works extremely well, keeps the tomatoes amazingly neat and accessible, ensures the ripening tomatoes get lots of sun and is, as an added bonus, inexpensive.

  15. Rita says:

    This is the only way I’ve ever grown tomatoes. I didn’t even realise other ways existed. Maybe that’s just my Englishness (is that even a word?) showing….

    It can still get messy though. Believe me…. ?

    • joanne says:

      Rita, this is what I’ve always done as well. I didn’t know there was a name for it, just knew that it kept the garden tidier (and that way, if the nasty tomato hornworm comes back, you can actually see where he is causing damage, and then hopefully find the gross green giant icky bug and smash it.

  16. Courtney says:

    Do you propagate your suckers into new plants ? I toss mine in an old maple syrup bottle in my kitchen window for a week then plant em out succession style.

    • Karen says:

      Nooooooo, lol. I don’t have any need or space for more tomatoes, lol. But I have propagated suckers of cherry tomatoes later in the year to grow on a windowsill indoors throughout the winter. Works great. :) ~ karen!

  17. Bambi Mayer says:

    I don’t have a garden yet and don’t see one in the near future but loved the post. One question….will you please, please, please post a good tutorial on how to do the bat wing underarm self-surgery when you figure it out. I have the utmost confidence in you, so I know you will perfect the technique!

  18. Lynn says:

    I am also looking forward to your garden . This year we only planted a few zucchini , yellow and green beans. As we knew the yard was going to get revamped . In short we have built a new shed, a green house, redid the main raised garden beds , shrunk a deck and are in the process of screening in the carport. That all said I miss our garden an I am on pins an needles as I await news of yours .

    • Karen says:

      Because I took on TWO gardens this year (not including my front yard garden) they’re both a bit of a mess while I get things figured out. By next year it should be better. ~ karen!

  19. Cred says:

    I did the string method this year, too. I don’t have near as many tomatoes but I had to build a bamboo A-frame with a horizontal pole spanning them (like a swing set) because I can’t seem to drive a stake deep enough before hitting a rock. I tie the string to the plant base and run to the top horizontal pole. Seems to be working quite well.

  20. Alita says:

    I use this method for cordons too. I put the loose end of the string under the rootball when I plant it and, as the plant’s roots grow, the string is secured.

  21. Kathleen says:

    Is leaf curl a bad thing? Never heard of it before… Google here I come! Again! I seem to do a whole lot of research after reading your posts. :) filling up the gaps in my ‘useless but interesting’ memory banks!

  22. Barbie says:

    TOTALLY doing this next year. Have cut my garden by 3/4 this year. To much to do and even that keeps me busy. Tomatoes are going crazy, but like you said all hell could break loose at any moment and tomato beetles are threatening to destroy everything! Drives me crazy and I’m discouraged.

  23. Gayle'' says:

    Julie, crushed egg shells can help reduce blossom end rot. I tried it one year and it worked pretty well. It’s all that calcium in the shells. Just scatter them around the base of the plants.

  24. Marna says:

    I will be following you to see how it works out. Well not that I would do it, just too much for me
    these days, but I am interested. My dad tried it all years ago, he had the best luck with concrete wire and making a large cage of it with 1x4s cut in half long way . I swear he had the best tomatoes, sweet and huge, even the ones that were suppose to be smaller. I think it was the chicken poop he added! LOL! Good luck!

  25. JulieD says:

    yay! I do my tomatoes that way too! If you tie a slip knot at the top you can loosen the string when you’re winding them, to make it easier, then tighten it right up after. Last year i still lost a lot of my tomatoes to blossom end rot though, due to a failed experiment. Works great when it’s done the right way though.

    • Karen says:

      I have to say I’m a convert JulieD. I love this method and I’m already seeing more tomatoes per plant than I ever do on the heirlooms. My great potato in straw experiment is not going as well I don’t think, lol. I’ll be doing a garden update soon and talk all about it. ~ karen!

    • E.J. Humphrey says:

      JULIED…Blossom End Rot is caused by inconsistent watering, not by lack of calcium.
      http://www.gardenmyths.com/blossom-end-rot/

      • Darwin says:

        I disagree. I tried following the consistent watering technique but still could not get rid of blossom end rot. Then I tried adding ground up egg shells to the planting hole and I haven’t had end rot since. I’ve continued to water the way I always have. I’m 100% sold on egg shells.

      • Donna says:

        I use egg shells as well. II also layer a handful of Epsom salt in the hole cover with dirt and then plant the tomatoes in the hole. The Epsom salt is an old farmers trick. Plenty of tomatoes on the vine.

      • Lynn says:

        I had blossom rot this year on two of my plants. After ONE application of a lime solution to lower the pH of the soil it went away. I’m a convert!

      • Jim Herlihy says:

        Lime or egg shells do not lower the pH, they raise it

      • Vera says:

        I don’t understand how to twirl the plant that is rooted in the ground, won’t that disturb it?

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